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The Syracuse Post-Standard ran a picture online of a woman being arrested for throwing hot grease on firefighters. The story said Fatima Darby was “emotionally disturbed” and she was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.

The picture made me uncomfortable and I felt sorry for the woman.

On the one hand, the incident happened and the media reports on what happened. It put firefighters, the woman and her baby at great risk. On the other hand, I couldn’t shake the feeling the picture was exploitative – that I was watching something I had no business watching.

Nestor Ramos of the Democrat and Chronicle recently described similar feelings about the notorious “Foot Licker.” (Link is now dead on D&C site.) The man charged with fondling little girls’ feet ranted incoherently during perp walks shown on TV news. Ramos found all of the snickering about the case disturbing.

Last week, a man leading police on a car chase killed himself live on Fox News Channel.

There have been a great deal of media reports linking teen suicides to bullying. The issue has been dramatically oversimplified. The media has normalized children taking their lives because they were bullied and that could prompt copycats. Medical professionals say teenage suicide is uncommon and there are many factors.

The behavior of mentally ill people makes for sensational pictures and headlines. But do we need to show a little more sensitivity, even to criminals, if an incident involves someone obviously having a breakdown?

Much has been written about the media’s treatment of mental illness. Studies have found most portrayals of mentally ill people involve criminality or dangerous situations. But the vast majority of mentally ill people are not dangerous and can be treated.

It’s something to remember the next time you see a picture of police wrestling an “emotionally disturbed” mother to the ground. What you didn’t see was her being loaded onto a stretcher and taken to a hospital.

Links of the Day:

– Governor Cuomo has a lot riding on the Bills stadium lease. If the Bills skip town or if the state shells out too much money to get them to stay, he’ll be blamed.

– An op-ed implores the state to “fix the Erie Canal” to allow more overnight stays.

– The East Irondequoit School District was shocked to discover Medley Centre was given more time to transform the mall and not pay financial penalties.

– Rochester has the Inner Loop. Syracuse has I-81. Buffalo has the Skyway. Take ’em down.

Public markets across the country have been revived.

7 Responses to Media & Mentally Ill

  1. Tough call. I often say “just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea”. We saw that with the Islam video, et al. That said, “the media “, however flawed it may be or seem to be, has a duty to report.

    I often wonder if we should be showing images of anyone, or using their names, until they have been proven guilty in this day and age. It’s too easy for accusations to become “permanent” with the internet, social media, etc. At least previously, you had to “remember” if someone was accused of something. Now it’s a brand like the Scarlet Letter.

    As for this case in particular, I guess I personally wouldn’t have run the picture. What does your ombudsman have to say about it?

  2. By the way, if you’re a decent human being, when you click the link, don’t read the comments section. The internet crowd has become one giant episode of Talk Soup. It’s sad.

  3. Rachel, thank you for posting this. I have had my own struggles with mental illness. Clinical depression and bipolar disorder both run in my family. The constant oversimplification and stigmatizing of mental health issues hurts me personally and all of us as a culture.

  4. I want you on the editorial board of a national news syndicate. It’s common sense thinking like this that is woefully under-represented in the news as a whole. (not missing entirely, just under-represented. Thanks for a thoughtful piece.

  5. It’s always tricky. Sensational news or the public has a right to see. Where’s the inbetween? That’s why you’re the professional rachel. I for one didn’t need to see this picture.

  6. Pingback: Talk About Mental Illness » The Rochesterian

  7. February 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm Eduardo Ricardo responds:

    It’s funny because it’s not you or anyone you care about.

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