Yesterday it was reported in a landmark study in The Lancet that antidepressants are confirmed to be effective, which is really positive news for people who rely on them to help deal with depression and other mental health issues.
The study, led by Associate Professor Andrea Cipriani from the University of Oxford, said: “All commonly used anti-depressants are more effective than placebo in adults with moderate to severe major depression.”
But, in typically insensitive fashion, The Sun reported the news with the shouty and crude front-page headline, “POP MORE HAPPY PILLS”.
As you can imagine, mental health charities have hit back at the newspaper for trivialising mental health problems and misunderstanding how anti-depressants works.
In a joint response from Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and mental health anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, a spokeswoman told ShortList: “The use of the word ‘Happy Pills’ on the front page of The Sun does a great deal to trivialise and stigmatise mental health conditions such as depression and reinforces the idea that mental health problems are not taken as seriously as physical health problems. The term further undermines the possible impact of depression and suggests a ‘quick fix’, both issues that we know from the people we work with are simply not the case.
“With one in four of us experiencing a mental health problem misuse of language like this adds to the stigma which already surrounds taking medication for mental illnesses. After all, this same approach would never be taken towards medication for say heart conditions or diabetes.
“We know that already too many people with mental health problems are made to feel ashamed and isolated. Trivialising depression and anti-depressants makes it even harder for those of us facing these issues to speak out and seek support.”
The spokeswoman went on: “With suicide still a leading cause of death for certain groups in society, anything that discourages people from seeking help is potentially very dangerous. Headlines such as this risk affecting the opinions and behavior of millions currently struggling, unseen, from depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
“We know from the people we help each year that anti-depressants are a vital part of recovery for many people. The term ‘Happy Pills’ also is misleading in terms of what depression actually is. Depression is not simply being unhappy. At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening, because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live.
“We believe that everyone with a mental health problem should have choice into their treatment without feeling ashamed.”
Pretty hard to argue with that.
Liz Felton, Chief Executive of Together For Mental Wellbeing, added: “Labelling the treatment of mental health conditions with antidepressant medication as simply ‘popping happy pills’ trivialises a serious – and tragically, sometimes fatal – illness.
“Headlines such as these do nothing to acknowledge the complexity of mental heath issues, of their treatment, nor of the lives of the thousands of people in the UK who experience mental distress every day. The Sun may say they are helping to raise awareness of mental health issues by running this headline on their front page, but this is exactly the kind of language that takes the fight to end the stigma around mental health back several steps.
“Antidepressant medications are not ‘happy pills’, and depression is not simply being unhappy. Depression can be a serious and life-changing mental illness, and antidepressants – along with a range of other types of support – can be vital in keeping the person taking them safe and alive.”
And others waded in with their own responses to the headline.
Nicola Furbisher said: “Here we go again. Know I’m shouting into the void @TheSun but please, quit with the ‘happy pills’. I know it makes your headline fit, but it’s so damned misleading and irresponsible. #Antidepressants do not make you ‘happy’, they help you stay alive. Oh, & no-one ‘pops’ them ffs.”
Taylor added: “What a vile headline.”
But the newspaper defended themselves, telling HuffPost UK: “Putting mental health issues front and centre of Britain’s best-selling newspaper is more likely to encourage people who are unsure whether to seek help than the opposite.”
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