WHAT BONKERS BRUNO TAUGHT ME ABOUT THE PRESS
When I was young my mum was the only person in the world who was mentally ill. And even then, back in the 90’s, we didn’t even say mentally ill, she was just ill. She was too sick to look after us and sometimes had to go away to hospital. All I knew was that I missed her and felt angry when she wasn’t around. When she was taken to hospital in an ambulance that didn’t have the siren on, my teachers at school allowed me to sit on a chair in assemblies and gave me pitying looks.
For a long time, I didn’t really know what was wrong, she was ushered away from me as soon as it got bad and sometimes I didn’t see her for months. But when I did see her she was full of love and fun; all the things mum's were supposed to be. I didn’t have any shame about her illness or understand it was taboo. I genuinely didn’t know any better.
As the years wore on and I was a teenager I began to see more, I witnessed her changing moods and begun to understand that her illness was in her mind. But she was still the only person I knew who got sick in their head, it made people feel sorry for her and our family. It was uncomfortable. What I didn’t realise was this is something that could happen to anyone.
That’s why, when I saw Sun newspapers headline in 2003 “Bonkers Bruno locked up” I was horrified to realise that his illness was like my mum’s. I’d heard about people that were “loonies” or “dangerous” because they were “mental” from films, but I didn’t realise that was a reputation that could be associated with real people like Frank Bruno or my mum.
Of course The Sun got it wrong, they made a retraction after a public outcry, citing they had “misjudged the public mood”.
The guardian wrote:
Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of Sane (mental health charity), said the Sun's stance was an "insult" to Bruno and to others suffering from mental illness’.
"It is both an insult to Mr Bruno and damaging to the many thousands of people who endure mental illness to label him as 'bonkers' or 'a nutter' and having to be 'put in a mental home'," she said.
There was a reprint "Sad Bruno in Mental Health Home", with the accompanying story labelling him a "hero". But as it is with newspaper retractions I didn’t see it and the impact had already been made. It frightened and silenced me for a long time. This was my first confrontation with mental health taboo within the wider public. I hid my own mental health issues in workplaces, only spoke to trusted friends and felt shame about my own relationship with it. I never remember feeling shame about this until I was awakened to how society views mental health.
Here we are 15 years on from “Bonkers Bruno” and the media still struggles to show humanity when dealing with mental health issues. I’m older, I’m wiser, but it’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the relentless mistreatment and judgement of those suffering with ill mental health.
Are newspapers tomorrow’s fish and chip paper as the old saying goes?
For me the answer is no and they never were.