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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Independent Imagery

Last Tuesday, The Independent ran front page coverage of new self harm research. There were also other articles on the subject inside the paper, including by the ubiquitous Dr Raj.

I thought it was good coverage. I mean, self harm issues taking the whole front page of the paper? That is pretty amazing. Not undeserved, as it is ridiculously underreported, just surprising.

They were wise, and absolutely correct, to point out that the number of people who present at A&E with self harm injuries, was in no way a sum total of the number of people who self harm. I, and many people I know, rarely have to have emergency treatment after self injury.

The article was very focussed on treatment. How treatment should be. Some of it is very basic respectful stuff (i.e. don't stitch someone up without local anaesthetic), other is a wider issue, like whether someone presenting with self harm injuries are referred onto mental health services.

I can't help but feel that if there were an eclectic range of support services, easy to access by self-referral, GPs, and A&E / walk-in centre staff, where people could go for help, support, advice, at the first signs of distress, that a good percentage of people would receive the required help and support, and go on to be ok.

As it is, many people can only get mental health care when things are totally, totally desperate. By this stage, things are almost certainly much worse than they were, and had they been able to access help earlier, things might never have got that bad. And by help I don't automatically or necessarily mean mainstream mental health services, it could be any of several models, such as community workers, peer support services, befrienders, support groups and so on.

But the reality is that by the time people qualify for help within a hugely cash-strapped service, things are usually very bad, and will take a lot longer to resolve.

Ah-ha, I knew I'd talked about this before.

But yeah, back to the Independent coverage. I thought all the Independent articles I read were worth reading, I was impressed with the volume and quality of coverage, but there was just one problem... the central column on the front page being a graphic photo of a disembodied, scarred and cut arm.

Why oh why? I don't want to know that the answer is to attract attention and increase sales, though I guess it was.

On the one hand, increased attention and sales should mean wider awareness of issues around self-harm and mental distress, which is good, but does the end justify the means? I'm not sure it does. Not only was I shocked and disturbed to be faced with this image unexpectedly on looking at the racks of papers, it was also what people on the net refer to as triggery. It made some people want to cut, it made others compare it with their own scars (either "Argh, mine are worse than that" or "Argh, mine aren't that bad... I don't do it enough", or many variations on those themes), and it also made me very aware of my own scars when I, in my short sleeves, paid for the paper, very aware of the visual connections between the image and my arms for the woman serving me.

I really appreciate positive and empathetic reporting on mental health issues, but when they are accompanied with such images that just feel exploitative, it leaves something of a zopiclone-aftertaste in my mouth.

This letters' page and this one contain various responses to the articles which are worth a read.

Home Truths is on the radio. It really is the Woman's Own of the BBC ;)


Anonymous said...

I saw that photo too - and thought it was incredibly irresponsible.
The coverage has been ok until now - my favourite response was Nick Johnstone in the Guardian last Friday,,1272404,00.html
But the Telegraph had a really horrible article today
and the Guardian had one a little less horrible but still not great,8146,1274966,00.html
Seems they miss the point to me. Totally.
Anne in Scotland
ps just discovered your blog - love it!

Unknown said...

Hi Anne

Thank you for these links... I had seen the Nick Johnstone article and liked it too... but hadn't seen the other two which are totally ouTRaGeouS! I may have to write a letter.

And I'm really glad you like the blog :D

Pippa x