In Words Were Originally Magic by Steve De Shazer he talks about therapy as the telling and retelling of stories to allow people to reshape and own their own stories. This is something that has always stuck with me and came back to me more recently. There are lots of stories in the news of people’s mental health difficulties often written by someone not experiencing it which made me think more about the language we are using to describe something we don’t own. These are other people’s stories we have the privilege to tell so we should do so with care and respect for their experiences. This is one of the reasons I feel so passionate about empowering people to tell their own stories, it is theirs to tell and they are the people most well equipped to do this even if they may not start off feeling that way.
There are a lots of ways the mental health world needs to catch up with the physical health world and I am not talking about the political funding side of things, that’s for another day. It is very uncommon for someone to be referred to as their illness if it is physical but in mental health land this seems to be accepted and it is so unhelpful when it comes to recovery. I couldn’t count the number of times I have heard someone referred to as anorexic, they simply are not, they are someone who has anorexia. Just like someone with cancer is not cancer. An illness is no way to define a person. A person with anorexia may also be a sister, an artist, a teacher, a mother, a total genius of a person. A lot more than an illness. Particularly with an illness such as anorexia it is important to detach the illness from the person to aid with recovery and this is harder when a person may be called an anorexic. I have known many men and women with a whole list of different illnesses: cancer, anorexia, depression, chronic fatigue, rheumatoid conditions, I could go on but the message is simple: they are all survivors in my eyes irrespective of the condition being mental or physical, recovering can be gruelling and should be seen as a triumph!
My biggest bug bear is the reporting of suicide, I live for the day we move away from reporting that someone has “committed suicide”. Suicide was decriminalised in England 57 years ago yet we are still acting like someone has committed a crime. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to have first experienced such a loss but having to read about it in such a negative way must be very difficult. There are guidelines available for reporting on suicide by Samaritans which are available here, I just wish people would make more use of this resource. If U Care Share are an absolutely amazing organisation who specialise in providing support to those bereaved by suicide and have lots of information and resources available on their website. As do, Papyrus who are a young person’s suicide awareness charity.
This of course is by no means a generalisation, there are people using their platform responsibly and writing amazing stories raising awareness of mental ill-health. 10 Things to Know are a brilliant healthcare professional ran website doing great things to open up the conversation of struggles within the profession which I know will be so reassuring to many people. Happiful Magazine are sharing news stories, tips and personal accounts of wellbeing and mental health. I could go on with this list and I am always excited to hear about new initiatives and campaigns.
I am of the mindset that there is no use complaining about something unless you are going to try to change the thing you are complaining about, so I will make that effort. Below are my top five tips for reporting on mental illness:
- They have not committed/thought about committing suicide. They have completed suicide or are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
- They are not anorexic or bulimic or schizophrenic, they are a person with anorexia or bulimia or schizophrenia.
- Be a nice person, remember that it is a person you are talking about. A person whose friends and family may be reading about them, think of how it would feel to be in their position.
- Get the facts right, there are plenty of people out there who would be happy to advise on mental illness. The Twitter community is a fabulous source of professionals and people with lived experience!
- You have been gifted with the platform to raise awareness of mental illness, please approach with sensitivity. You are part of a potentially life-changing movement to bring about equality.