The Sun newspaper's '1,200 killed by mental patients' headline labelled 'irresponsible and wrong'

Front page of tabloid accused of fuelling stigma with inflammatory front page

Felicity Morse
Monday 07 October 2013 11:44 BST

The front page of the Sun newspaper has infuriated mental health campaigners with the front page headline “1,200 killed by mental patients”.

Although the full story stresses many of the "high risk patients" who committed murder over the last decade were let down by the system, charities and MPs accused the newspaper of stigmatising those who suffered from ill health.

Labour’s health team wrote on Twitter that the front page “disgracefully reinforced” stigma, while Rethink Mental Illness wrote "Dear @TheSunNewspaper the number of homicides by ppl w/mental health problems has gone *down*. Front page is irresponsible & wrong."

Sue Baker, director of mental health awareness charity Time to Change wrote “We are still picking up the pieces from terrible headlines 'mad psycho killers' mid to late 90s. Whatever the agenda this coverage harmful.”

Alistair Campbell tweeted: “Constant media linkage of violence and mental illness leads to violence against the mentally ill rather than by them. #stigma #timetochange.”

The Sun was also criticised for not giving enough space to figures that showed those suffering from mental illness are up to ten times more likely to be the victim of a crime than the average person.

Paul Burstow MP ‏wrote: “Truth is people with mental health problems more likely to be victims of crime NOT perpetrators of crime."

The Sun’s managing editor Stephen Abell defended the paper’s coverage of the figures, tweeting: "But read full copy: call for better communication between agencies; piece by m-health charity; story on ill as victims?"

However Sue Baker replied: “it is the front page headline that will fuel stigma. Appreciate the inclusion of Mind comment but outweighed.”

In a statement to the Independent, Sue Baker, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind and Paul Jenkins, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness said:“It’s incredibly disappointing to see a leading newspaper splash with such a sensational and damaging headline.

"The figures used are disputable: in the article itself, it’s acknowledged that the numbers of homicides by people with mental illness has actually stayed the same for decades.

"In fact some studies suggest that the numbers have gone down in recent years. There are 1.2 million people using secondary mental health services – the vast majority of whom pose no threat to anyone. And in reality, people with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of crime than the general population.

"We can’t afford for the call for improvements in mental health care to be led by a stigmatising debate focused on tragic but very rare incidents of violence.

"This headline, which will be seen by millions of people today, creates a completely false picture which will only fuel the stigma and prevent more people from seeking help and support when they need it, including when they are in crisis.

"We urge all media outlets to use extreme caution when reporting issues like this, and ask that they look at the guidelines produced by Time to Change, the anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.”

Figures from Time to Change show people with mental health problems are more dangerous to themselves than they are to others. Actually 95 per cent of homicides are committed by people who have not been diagnosed with mental health problems.

Additionally numbers show that the number of murders committed by people diagnosed with mental health problems has stayed at a fairly constant level since the 1990s.

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