Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Suing the Media

Before I start this, I would like to say that I know very little about the law. I know that it's illegal to steal, murder, drive too fast etc but that's pretty much it. Apart from knowing more about the UK's Mental Health Act than the average person that is, but that's only because I've had it used against me. Twice.

Also, there are potential triggers in this post. Please stay safe.

So here's my radical idea. I could sue the media. Why? How about because the way the media portrays mental health, and schizophrenia in particular, made me attempt suicide on more than one occasion. When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I believed the media's portrayal of schizophrenia in that 'schizophrenics' were murderers and all-round evil people. I believed that my psychiatrist labelling me ‘schizophrenic’ was his way of telling me that I was an evil murderer. I lost a lot of sleep trying to come to terms with being this evil ‘schizophrenic’ murderer.

When I was sectioned the second time, my psychiatrist changed my diagnosis from psychosis to schizophrenia, around four months into my 17-month stay. Up to this point in my stay, I had been staying alone in my room for most of the day because I was scared of other people. Now that I was ‘schizophrenic’ however, I hid in my room to protect other people. I was convinced that I was a real danger to others and needed to be locked up for the protection of others. I had been scared enough of my psychosis diagnosis, as the media often uses the word ‘psychotic’ when describing murderers. They never seem to use the word psychotic in the real sense, in that when a person is psychotic they are confused, not searching for a weapon to kill a random person with.

Yes, I am aware that there are cases where a person with a mental illness, schizophrenia included, can become violent and even murder a person. But this is the exception, not the rule. Yet the media portray it as being the rule. When a person attacks another person, any mental illness they may have is not always relevant. Plus if the media really has to announce that the killer had a mental illness, they should really say that the killer would have been violent before becoming unwell. Mental illness does NOT equal violent. I would love to see a survey of people with mental illness, schizophrenia in particular, and see what percentage of people with schizophrenia have been violent towards others. I imagine that the percentage would surprise many people and be a lot lower than those who know nothing about schizophrenia would expect.

So that’s why I would love to sue the media. Force them to acknowledge that they have been wrongly ‘accusing’ schizophrenics and others with a mental illness of being violent. After all, if a Lord can get an apology and hundreds of thousands of quid for being wrongly labelled a paedophile, can’t I get an apology? I’m sure that the media’s portrayal of mental illness could be classed as libel. However, there are some parts of the media that are more sympathetic.

BBC News tends to vary between really useful mental health articles to really damaging ones. A couple of useful ones back up my statements that being violence among those with a mental illness is rare. This page says how 1 in 20 violent crimes are committed by those with a mental illness. OK, so that’s fairly high, but when 1 in 4 people have a mental illness, that means that a violent crime is five times more likely to be committed by a person without a mental illness than someone who is mentally well. Another page says:
“Around 30-50 murders a year out of a total of 800 could be blamed on mental illness.”
There are well over half a million people these days living with a serious mental illness (schizophrenia or bipolar) in the UK, possibly even as high as one million people. But even taking the highest number of murders and lowest number of people with a serious mental illness (50 murderers out of 500,000 people with a serious mental illness) is equal to 0.0001% of people with a serious mental illness becoming a murderer. The media seems hesitant to publish any positive stories about serious mental illness, and instead they focus on the negative stories. If a person with a serious mental illness saved the lives of hundreds of people, the odds are that the person’s diagnosis would be hidden or suppressed. Yet if a person with a serious mental illness or any other mental illness murders someone, BAM! Front-page news.

All the negative press of schizophrenia and mental illness in the media led me to become very depressed when I was diagnosed. When I realised that this new label of schizophrenia was going to stay, I desperately tried to kill myself. As I was in hospital, I really lacked the means to commit suicide and as a result, I survived with just a scratch. Literally. It wasn’t the only time I attempted suicide because of thinking I was a danger to others.

So do I have a case for libel against the media’s portrayal of mental illness, schizophrenia in particular? I reckon if I did, and it was widely publicised across the media, it could do a lot to reduce stigma around mental illness. But I’m not brave enough to do it, nor do I have the energy to learn about what I would have to actually do. I would be interested to know if I had a case, from somebody who knows this area of the law. However, I’m not going to sue the media. I repeat, I am NOT going to sue the media. But I reckon this sort of case would be quite interesting.

Any thoughts?


  1. Came here after seeing your post on time to change wales. Nice blog, hope it helps you. Mine helps me some. Take care.

  2. Thank you, my blog does help me, glad yours helps you too!

    Katy x

  3. Sorry for the late reply, but no you don't. Libel law only applies to personal libel, i.e. claims made against a specific individual (or group of individuals) or organisation(s); you cannot libel a class of people, and a person cannot sue because a claim about "their type" may affect them personally. There are laws about inciting hate against particular groups, but it has to be very specific. The same applies to other minorities -- Muslims were a common target in the 2000s. There are laws against inciting hatred, but the press can get around this by running repeated stories that give a negative impression of that minority (such as with bias in crime reporting or stories about them repeatedly expecting or getting special treatment, for example) rather than explicitly attacking them.