Every Saturday this month we will feature some of the best articles by young people from our SOUK workshops on Political and Media Literacy. Today’s thought-provoking article is by Charlotte Mitchell.
We are facing a mental health crisis. This problem is all the worse for young people, with UK charity Young Minds reporting that less than 1 in 3 young people receive NHS support. The question then that must be asked, is how these alarming statistics have come to be?
Young people are more likely than any other demographic to be on social media and engaging with pop culture. They are also likely to see the hateful comments which are often directed at celebrities and other public figures. We are living in an age where tabloids, as well as broadsheet newspapers, are reporting in an increasingly personal and invasive way. Undoubtedly, public figures are under immense pressure, and are being held to higher standards of scrutiny than ever before. Regrettably, it seems that less and less consideration is given to the wellbeing of an article’s subject. Those rose-tinted glasses which made us think that celebrities are invulnerable and unfeeling gods have shattered after one particular incident.
In January 2020, after a month’s long stream of negative reporting over the alleged assault against then-boyfriend Lewis Burton, ex Love Island host Caroline Flack tragically took her own life. I will not admit for a second that I condone the way Ms Flack treated Burton. Domestic violence against men is a woefully underreported crime, with men three times less likely to report than women. However, this person should never have been pushed into a position where she felt she could not bear to live.
At the time of her death, most of the press blamed the media for their insensitive reporting of Ms Flack. Of course, many factors were at play here, but the reporting style of the tabloids must be acknowledged. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer commented that some stories ‘amplified’ damaging posts on social media, with many articles including personal attacks. The Mirror, for instance, described Ms Flack’s situation as a ‘fall from grace’, despite her ‘stunning body’.
Caroline Flack had amassed a large online following during her life, much of which was made up of teenagers and young adults. How must these impressionable people have felt when they read such cruel and frankly objectifying comments about someone’s appearance? This is arguably something which could trigger an unhealthy relationship in a young person with their own body, especially given Flack’s affiliation with Love Island, a reality TV show grounded on the premise of external ‘beauty’ as that which determines your chances of finding happy ever after.
The Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service, CAMHS, gets less than 1 per cent of the total NHS budget. This, despite suicide being the third leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds and with anorexia nervosa having the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder in adolescents. It is on this note that you begin to wonder what must be done.
May 18th through to the 24th was International Mental Health Awareness week, with charities everywhere doing what they could to raise the profile of mental health and reduce the surrounding stigma. During that week I read many articles which discussed the various causes of mental health problems, particularly in teenagers. While you cannot trace all mental health struggles back to a single root cause, I do feel that the media have certainly contributed to the individual struggles of many. I am 16, and I have seen far too many of my friends struggle with their body image and their relationship with food. In my view, seeing celebrities subjected to very high standards in terms of how they should look, has only made matters worse for them. Many, I suspect, feel that they too should meet this daunting idea of ‘perfection’.
It is always easy to say that anyone who is struggling with such issues should simply switch off — unplug themselves from social media. But should the burden of responsibility fall on those most vulnerable in our society? Or, could it be argued that it is the job of the media to stop holding celebrities to such cruel and unrealistic standards?
In an NTA-winning BBC documentary titled ‘Odd One Out’, Little Mix member Jesy Nelson recalls a period of her life where she would actively seek out hate online, which saw her being described as ‘the fat one in Little Mix’. She was barely 20 when a competitor on The X Factor and already the pressure was mounting. Though she is now much happier and far less troubled by online hate, she vividly describes a time that was so dark it pushed her to attempt to end her life.
This hate must stop. But will the government intervene to help control the press, or will this be confined to the realm of free speech — expected in a democracy? In an article for The Guardian, journalist Roy Greenslade argued that papers will justify their exposure of ‘celeb secrets’ by insisting that they enjoy the rewards of marketing false images.
It is unfortunately true that no government will want to go after the media for fear of unfavourable coverage. To me, the government’s priorities are clear. Support from the papers is more important than civilian wellbeing.
I, for one, refuse to settle for a world where 81 per cent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. We must be better. Do better. Work harder to change the narrative — not just for ourselves, but for everybody; including celebrities. No human being deserves to feel inadequate about themselves.
By Charlotte Mitchell