Sinéad O’Connor: Mental Health, the Media, and Human Rights


Sinéad O’Connor discusses mental health issues with TIME magazine this week, singling out the media’s tendency to diagnose “without qualification,” and adding that “mental health and mental illness is a human rights issue.”

Time →

From the interview:

You’re so outspoken about the way that we talk about mental illness. How do you feel that your message of being respectful toward the issue is being received by people?

It’s not the question of my message. I think it’s a general world message now. My particular grief, if you like, is with the media in particular. I think how the media discuss and portray and diagnose, indeed, with qualification, mental health and mental illness is a human-rights issue. I’ll give you just one example. There’s a dreadful practice in this country going on at the moment, which is a complete breach of human and civil rights, of paparazzi lynching — that’s what I call it — young celebrities, young female celebrities, whether it’s Britney or Amanda Bynes or Lindsay Lohan or anyone who has either been diagnosed with an illness or is perceived by people to have a mental illness, and lynching them in the streets, trying to get photos of them looking like they’re having breakdowns, taking these pictures, selling them for tons of money to the newspapers with derogatory words written under them about mental illness and about these women, and making a buffoonery and a mockery of them. That’s obviously extremely wounding and dangerous for those young women, because it doesn’t stay on the page or stay on the screen. It translates down to how people treat you in your life. Unfortunately there’s such a stigma about mental illness or perceived mental illness that people are bullied and treated like sh*t and the illnesses are used as something with which to beat people, and in a manner than a physical illness wouldn’t be. You couldn’t go lynching with paparazzi girls who have broken legs and start writing about, ‘Aren’t these dreadful,awful people? Let’s have a great laugh at them because they have a broken leg.’
Read more: Sinead O’Connor: Mental Illness and Media |

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. I just read this interview in Time yesterday. There certainly is a stigma with mental illness and I believe it starts with any doctor who tells a patient “this is for life” when they give a diagnosis. I don’t believe mental illness need be for life. However, the ‘history’ of any mental illness associated with a person certainly seems to be. Our society doesn’t allow for recovery and that is part of the problem. The media, in this regard, could be called “bullies.” Whenever there is a crime or some other newsworthy strange behavior by anyone who has had any mental health issues, it is readily announced when discovered, as “part of the story” as if the person is already guilty simply via some past label. You never here a newscaster say, “well, so-and -so had meningitis or diabetes or a heart murmur” some time back…it’s always he or she was treated for a mental illness in the past. THAT is stigma. The label itself is what is “for life” outlasting even the diagnostic criteria and outliving the person ever associated with it. That is stigma. That is why some people don’t “go get help.” The label should not be used as a measuring tool of a person’s worth, but there is no place to surrender the thing once attached. It is like a freaking shadow. Even if a person were to recover and be as normal as, let’s say, for instance, be as normal as the doctor who made the diagnosis, they will always be haunted by society for allowing the DSM to define who they were in their hour of need. I feel that I no longer meet the criteria for the label attached to me, but there is no place to return it like a pair of shoes. People {recover from the illness}…but not from the “label.” And maybe not from the stigma. I suppose that may be the professional ‘joke’ there. Like the psychiatrist who tells his patient when diagnosing him or her “this is for life, but don’t think about it or you’ll get better.”…. “Did you say ‘better'” the patient asks…. “Bitter. I said Bitter” the doctor replies. And that’s pretty much what happens many times. If the patient recovers they become bitter because the stigma is inescapably still there. It should not be this way with any illness ~ not mental, physical, real, or imaginary ones. It defeats the purpose of medicine if there is no room for recovery. People need to be ‘allowed to recover’ from mental illness. And if a person is suffering and afraid to reach out because of stigma, who is to blame? Thanks for allowing me to share. (I’m one of the better, bitter ones.) Recovered.

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  2. I think having someone as well-known as Sinead O’Connor, and with the access to the media that she has, saying what she is saying, is very helpful to our cause. Just connecting “mental health” with “human rights” is revolutionary in the climate we face right now.

    Before SAMHSA took over most of our movement, what O’Connor said would not be that remarkable, but now, even small crumbs of resistance reported in the mass media are desperately needed.

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