Did you see the front cover of the Daily Mail on Friday 29th December? Or seen ‘A nation hooked on happy pills‘ article by Ben Spencer, Medical Correspondent online?
According to the Daily Mail I am hooked on my happy pills.
That I went to my GP demanding a quick fix. And they were tired of dealing with lots of unhappy, complaining patients and knowing that I wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone just gave me some pills.
Actually Mr Spencer it didn’t happen like that. When I first started taking antidepressants I was 22 and seeing a counsellor. I was deeply unhappy, feeling suicidal and he couldn’t understand why. It was he who convinced me that there was nothing wrong with taking some medication to help me. He who convinced me that they would help. I didn’t want to take any tablets but I knew I needed to do something. I needed to get better.
I didn’t take these tablets to get happy. I took them to stop crying. I took them to stop wanting to throw myself out the window. I took them to feel level, to be able to function and get up in the morning. And I’m still taking your so called quick fix 7 years later. I’ve been on all of the doses from 50mg to 100mg, 150mg and my current dose is the maximum of 200mg. I’ve had counselling, undertaken some cognitive behavioural therapy, lots of self care and talked about it on this blog and in the newspaper but still I take my prescripted medicine. Because that’s what it is, a medicine to help me because I don’t have enough serotonin. And you know what Mr Spencer? I need to take those happy pills each morning. It’s okay for me to jokingly call my medication happy pills. It’s not okay for you to print that on the front page of a national newspaper.
Apart from angrily typing away here on my blog and tweeting and retweeting on twitter I have complained directly to the Daily Mail. I should receive a response from their Readers Editor, an independent lawyer.
Direct Complaint sent to the Daily Mail:
I wish to complain about the use of ‘happy pills’ in the headline, front page story and online article published by the Daily Mail on the 29th December 2017: ‘A nation hooked on happy pills’ by Ben Spencer. I believe that the use of this phrase goes against the IPSO Editors Code of Rules under Clause 1 Accuracy.
The use of the phrase ‘Happy Pills’ is inaccurate. Antidepressants are not taken to enable the person to feel happy. The use of this phrase is misleading and suggests that it is a quick fix for depression and mental health problems. Many people take antidepressants to stabilise their moods, to enable them to function and to prevent suicide. They are not taken to feel happy. Antidepressants would usually be accompanied by lifestyle changes and talking therapies. Prescribed medication enables people struggling with depression to make these changes and talk about their problems to improve their mental health.
The use of the phrase ‘Happy Pills’ goes against guidelines issued by the National Union of Journalists in 2015 to ensure responsible reporting on mental health.
It also goes against guidelines issued by Time to Change, the programme aiming to end mental health stigma and discrimination, funded by the Department of Health.
Sensationalist headlines and reporting, as seen in this article, increases the chances of misunderstanding, maintaining and increasing stigma of mental health and may prevent people from seeking help. This article has not attempted to improve understanding or attitudes to mental health. It suggests that those struggling with their mental health are weak, looking for a quick fix, taking them unnecessarily, wasting money and risking their health. The inclusion of Katrina Glynn’s story adds to this suggestion.
There is no comment from a mental health organisation such as MIND charity, a person taking antidepressants or a GP. The inclusion of the quote from Professor Wendy Burn saying that ‘antidepressants are not happy pills’ is welcomed but I believe that this does not make up for the sensationalist headline. And the three other quotes, all from Professors or an expert at a University do little to give a balanced view.
I, currently take antidepressants and have done for 6 years. This is something I have struggled with and have kept a secret until recently when I realised that this has been further damaging to my mental health. Headlines and news articles such as this one would have added to my personal discomfort.
It is difficult to understand where the statistics in the article are coming from. Many dates are mentioned, was the report published in 2000, 2015 or 2016? Or as the first line suggests ‘Britain is becoming hooked on antidepressants, a global study suggests today’ was it a new study released on the 29th December 2017? No other organisation reported on this study so it appears inaccurate to suggest that this study was released recently.
I believe that the use of the phrase ‘happy pills’ in the headline is inaccurate. I also believe that the rest of the article has not overcome the use of this inaccurate and sensationalist headline.
I never heard from the Daily Mail. I then contacted IPSO directly and I have now recieved this response:
When IPSO receives a complaint, the Executive staff review it first to decide whether the complaint falls within our remit, and whether it raises a possible breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. We have read your complaint carefully, and have decided that it does not raise a possible breach of the Editors’ Code.
You said that the headline of this article was inaccurate to refer to antidepressants as “happy pills”. You said this gave the misleading impression that antidepressants are a quick fix for mental health problems. Whilst I understand that you strongly disagree with the way the article characterised these drugs, the newspaper was entitled to characterise them in this way: as a colloquial term it could be reasonably understood as referring to anti-depressant medications, rather than as a comment on whether the drugs make people ‘happy’ or are designed to prevent ‘sadness’. There was no possibility of readers being misled as to the nature of the drugs referred to, and the article made this clear above the headline, by stating “GPs treble doses of anti-depressants”. There was no possible breach of Clause 1 on this point.
You were also concerned that the article was inaccurate to suggest patients were demanding the drugs as a “quick fix”. The basis for this claim was made clear: the article quoted Carmine Pariante, a professor at King’s College London, as saying that “there’s also more people asking for anti-depressants as a quick fix because either they’re not used to feeling sad or less able to tolerate it”. Whilst we recognised that you strongly disagreed with this view, the newspaper was entitled to report it. The article was not misleading in the way you suggested, and there was no possible breach of Clause 1 on this point.
In addition, you said the article was inaccurate because it was not clear what study was being referred to. As we noted in correspondence, the article reported on data provided by the OECD, which was also reported on by other news organisations. The article said that a global study “today” had revealed this data; this did not mean that the data itself had been published recently, and you did not give grounds for finding that this was inaccurate. There was no possible breach of Clause 1 with respect to this.
You were also concerned that the article did not give a “balanced” view of the situation, because of the selection of individuals chosen to comment in the article. Under the Editors’ Code, articles do not need to be balanced, as long as publications take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. In this case, you have not identified any significant inaccuracies within the article, so there was no possible breach of Clause 1.
We would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider the points you have raised, and have shared this correspondence with the newspaper to make it aware of your concerns.
Despite my complaint not being considered a breach of conduct so there won’t be any retraction or changes, I am really pleased and proud that I raised these issues and will certainly do again.
If you wish to make a complaint about a newspaper article take a look at the IPSO policies. They can only investigate if an article has broken the Editors’ Code of Practice. You can complain to the Daily Mail using their online form.