Tag Archives: politics

Using mental illness as an insult – Mick Philpott, Jon Snow & lunatics

4 Apr

Jon Snow twitter profile pic

We’ve all done it: casually thrown around as insults terms related to mental illness. This evening, Jon Snow, Channel 4’s lead news anchor, posted a blog in which he used the term “lunatic” as an insult in the tragic Philpott case. When picked up on it, Snow swiftly apologised and earned brownie points for doing so. At present, however, Snow’s blog post still contains the term.

The problem with calling someone convicted of manslaughter a lunatic is that lunacy is a synonym for insanity, a legal defence to murder; its use in relation to the Philpott case is sloppy and inaccurate. And the trouble with casually using terms related to mental illness to insult people is that it turns mental illness into an insult.

As background, Snow’s blog post was in reference to distasteful and misleading political posturing reported during the day. Various pundits and politicians (in particular the Chancellor, George Osborne, later endorsed by the Prime Minster, David Campbell) sought to capitalise on the sentencing of the Philpotts and their friend for the manslaughter of 6 children. (Take a look at the links at the foot of this page to explore the subject further.) To take one example of the coverage, the Telegraph newspaper said:

“The Chancellor has questioned why British taxpayers should be “subsidising lifestyles” such as those of Mick Philpott, who was today sentenced to life in prison for killing six children. Mr Osborne made the controversial comments during a visit to Derby shortly after Philpott and his wife Mairead were handed their sentences for intentionally setting fire to their home. Asked whether the Philpotts were a product of Britain’s benefit system, Mr Osborne said: “It’s right we ask questions as a Government, a society and as taxpayers, why we are subsidising lifestyles like these.”

Jon Snow has, in addition to his platform on a national broadcaster, nearly 300,000 twitter followers. He also introduced Channel 4’s 4 Goes Mad mental health season. He’s influential. Earlier this evening, I saw a tweet of his containing a link to a post on his Snow Blog about the tragic Philpott case. Snow’s post was titled: Can abnormal behaviour affect the welfare policy debate?

Snow, in a strongly worded rebuttal, asked whether there really was a case for regarding Mick Philpott’s behaviour as a valid ground for reforming welfare policy. He referenced, amongst others, statistics showing there were just 50 families in the UK with the same number of children as the Philpotts.

Philpott is not representative of people who are currently in need of the state safety net due to ill health, lack of private pension or inability to find paid work. And of course it is highly distasteful to use the tragedy of the deaths of 6 children for political purposes. Snow’s blog was robust and well-written, apart from this, which caught my eye:

“The idea that an entire system should be re-jigged to cope with a lunatic who burnt to death half the children he’d fathered seems questionable at the least.”

Here, Snow uses the word “lunatic” as an insult, in order very deliberately to convey the deepest disapproval. The trouble with using terms related to mental illness as insults – especially when it’s done by a figure as prominent as Snow – is that it’s just this sort of casual stigma that adds to the big fat stigma pie we’re being served extra helpings of at the moment.

As I then tweeted:

Disappointed @jonsnowC4 refers to Philpott as a “lunatic” when he was judged criminally responsible #casualstigma

Snow swiftly responded:

I apologise..that was sloppy of me.

And, in a response to another tweep, Snow tweeted:

I’m sorry the word ‘lunatic’ was very absuive [sic] usage..thoughtless..I should know better

I tweeted in response:

Credit to @jonsnowC4 for apologising so quickly for calling Philpott a lunatic. (Wish I was so good at apologising when I stuff up.)

Snow received plaudits for his quick apology, as my Storify of tweets shows. His fans hold him in even more affection now. For example, Rich Humphrey (@RichMHumphrey) tweeted:

“completely agree! Few in the media would hold their hands up like that. Even more respect for him now”

Finally, I also asked Snow:

Could you tweak the blog to remove the reference to lunatic? That’d be good.

At present, the blog has yet to be revised. Fingers crossed. There are so many expressive insults in the English language that there’s really no need to resort to using references to mental health as insults.



web links 5Links related to the story above


Links on the debate about what (if anything) the Philpott case tells us about welfare benefits, in light of the notorious Daily Mail headline (pictured below right) and George Osborne’s subsequent comments:

Firstly, coverage on 4th April:

Coverage from later dates (added to this blog subsequently):



What does mental illness look like? Panorama & the Great Disability Scam

29 Jan

Panorama - The Great Disability Scam

Last night, BBC One’s Panorama presented a half hour documentary on the government’s Work Programme. This was introduced 18 months ago to help people who’ve been out of work for a long time get back into employment. The focus of the documentary was on how this programme was working for those with disabilities – the “hard to place” candidates. It exposed a culture of paid-by-results private providers cherry picking the easiest to help, parking those considered hard to help and insulting attitudes towards clients who who some staff labelled as LTBs – Lazy Thieving Bastards.

When I watched the programme earlier today, I was shocked by the interview with Mark Gould, diagnosed with anxiety and depression and out of work for several years.Panorama - The Great Disability Scam 3 The interviewer, Samantha Poling (pictured left) appeared to goad him into demonstrating behaviour that would make him “look like” he was mentally ill. It’s not an easy segment of the programme to watch.

That sparked a series of tweets, which I’ve collated here (links below), on the subject of what mental illness looks like, how it is perceived by the public and what that means in terms of access to welfare benefits when you’re unable to work – both in terms of the public’s perception of those who don’t “look” ill, and how Atos conducts Work Capability Assessments of people signed off by their own doctors as currently unfit to work. Panorama - The Great Disability Scam 2

I then commented on the fact that what you look like also forms a component of a psychiatric assessment. The Mental State (or Status) Examination includes observations such as whether you have a bizarre hairstyle or unnatural hair colour. I’ve written and tweeted on this before, in the blog post “You can’t dye your hair red”. I look at the contents of the MSE in more detail in these tweets.

It was interesting that the final segment of Panorama ended with an extended shot of a man in a wheelchair making his way slowly up a sloping street. That, it seems, is how people view disability.

Hope you find my tweets interesting. The best part, of course, is the responses of others. All the links are below.

If you have any comments on the post or the programme, please feel free to add them below. I’ll include new tweets that come in by updating the Storify story.



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The politics of mental health: the new mental health task force

15 Nov

Here’s a Storify story I put together from mine and others’ tweets following the major speech by Ed Miliband (leader of the opposition Labour party) on Monday 29th October at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in which he announced the establishment of a new mental health task force.

I started with this tweet:

Dear @Ed_Miliband, good start, but remember there’s much more to good mental health than the NHS, drugs & treatment.

Read on to find out what I mean, together with comments from others tweeps.


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The new Mental Health Bill and criminal records checks (a “career death sentence”)

9 Sep

The new Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill gets its second reading in the House of Commons on 14th September. This means it moves closer to becoming law. The Bill seeks to remove some important areas of discrimination, to make it clear that people with mental health problems (past or present) may play a full part in public life – such as being an MP, school governor or serving on a jury.

In my view, the Bill misses one vital issue: criminal records checks. A tweet which gets a lot of retweets whenever it goes out is this:

“Mental illness is not a crime. Mental health history information has no place in criminal records checks. Full stop.”

People can see the obvious injustice in putting those whose only “crime” is to have had a mental health problem into the criminal records system.

This has had a direct impact on me and my ability to put last year’s events behind me and get back into the jobs market. I had a completely  clean criminal record and had never even come close to being arrested.

Then, last year, police came to my home and took me to my local psychiatric hospital where I was sectioned. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I learned – through Twitter – that this meant I could no longer say, “I’ve never been arrested”: the power used by the police – s136 – is an arrest, which would be kept on police records.

And, because the police had taken me to hospital, the hospital would have notified the police of the subsequent section 2, which would also be kept on police records.

I then found out that, if I wanted to volunteer at my local school or sports club, the enhanced criminal records check the head teacher or club leader would request would show up the arrest, and that I’d been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. This private health information is not something I want to broadcast to people in the area where I’ve lived for 2 decades nor people I’d be working for.

The good news is that I found out before applying to my local school or sports club, because then the cat would have been out of the bag.

Good news for others is that it’s only where there’s been some form of contact with police that mental health history information can appear on a criminal records check. The police don’t know if you’ve visited your GP for anti-depressants or seen a counsellor. They won’t even know if you’ve been sectioned, so long as there’s been no contact with police.

More good news is that it’s only where you want to work with children or vulnerable adults – and hence need what’s called an enhanced CRB check – that such information can be disclosed. A standard CRB check just has criminal convictions.

However, for me, keeping my health information private, as is my right, means I’ve not been able to use my time and talents to volunteer at my local school or sports club. Which is a shame. For me and for them.

That’s why I was heartened to hear this very issue raised in the recent House of Commons mental health debate. And why I hope there might still be time to get this issue included in the proposed Bill.

Read the Storify story in the link below to find out more.

[The new Mental Health Bill & criminal records checks]

The new Mental Health Bill & criminal records checks – tweets