This week Sun Newspaper front page carried the headline: 1200 killed by mental patients. This was a dangerously selective way to lead on the research covered, reinforcing the public perception of the mentally ill as a risk to society.
I work as a Psychology teacher, in particular working to develop understanding of mental health issues. I also have a history of long term mental illness in my family. I was therefore horrified to see that the Sun were misrepresenting complex research in such a harmful way, which is why I want to encourage others in responding to these misrepresentations.
In reality people with mental illnesses are at greater risk of many forms of violence and assault from general society than those without, as well as having a long history of experiencing abusive treatment from the state. By focusing on stats relating to acts of violence carried out by the mentally ill the Sun Newspaper are increasing the risk to patients by dehumanising and demonising them. The SPJ code of ethics states that Journalists should:
"Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
..treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect."
The Sun need to review the processes by which editorial decisions are taken about this to include a recognition of their responsibility as a big media player towards protecting the safety of the mentally ill.
We are calling on them to
1) Recognise that they have acted unethically in misrepresenting information about the mentally ill in this harmful way, and to print a full correction to this effect.
2) Make a donation to mental health charities to cover any profit made from this story and to apologise to those misrepresented