The press watchdog has launched an investigation into a newspaper article in which journalist Janet Street-Porter describes depression as “the latest must-have accessory” for “trendy women”.
The article sparked a torrent of complaints from people with mental health conditions, both on the newspaper’s own website and to the Press Complaints Commission.
The disability charity RADAR described the article in the Daily Mail as “ignorant, offensive and damaging”.
The mental health charities Mind and Rethink and the anti-stigma campaign Time to Change wrote to the editor of the Daily Mail, describing the piece as “offensive in the extreme”.
In her article, Street-Porter says “the latest must-have accessory is a big dose of depression”, which she describes as “a relatively new ailment”.
She says that “at the moment, trendy women are allegedly suffering from ‘depression’, but back in the Nineties the biggest cause of sick leave was backache”.
She concludes: “Every day, loads of women get divorced, lose a loved one, give birth and find out they have a terminal disease.
“But, miraculously, 90 per cent of us don’t get depressed about it, don’t take special medication and don’t whinge about ‘black holes’. That’s life in the real world.”
A string of Mail readers who have experienced depression attacked Street-Porter on the newspaper’s website, accusing her of “prejudice”, and of being “ridiculously ignorant”, “small-minded” and “attention-seeking”.
The Press Complaints Commission said it had received about 100 complaints and would be investigating her article.
RADAR said it felt compelled to respond to the article because it was “so ignorant, offensive and damaging”.
David Stocks, RADAR’s empowerment manager, who has bipolar disorder, said: “Try going into a hospital and speaking to a mental health patient about depression being trendy, and then you would see the stupidity of comments like these.”
Saying that rich celebrities should not have depression was “like stating that they should not get food poisoning or chicken pox: patently and utterly absurd”, said RADAR.
It said many people had kept their mental health conditions secret due to the “ever-present stigma” that was “perpetuated by the nonsense that has dribbled from Janet’s pen”.
No-one from the Daily Mail was available to comment.
Stephen Brookes, chair of the disabled members’ council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said the article had “no basis in reality whatsoever”.
An NUJ motion at this week’s annual TUC disability conference – which was unanimously carried – attacked recent media coverage of mental health issues.
It called on the TUC to lobby the Society of Editors, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Office for Disability Issues to produce guidelines on reporting mental health issues.
20 May 2010