My news source of choice is the CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster. Usually they’re pretty good, but sometimes they slip up. This was the case with an article published on the CBC website on March 18 about a Russian woman, Margarita Gracheva, whose hands had been cut off by her “psychotic husband.”
The “psychotic” adjective was used near the beginning of the article, and it immediately caught my eye. I wondered if this was just stigma, or if this man was actually mentally ill. The article made no other mention of anything mental illness-related. A 2020 article by the same journalist about the same woman made no mention of mental illness. I recognized the journalist’s name, and he’s a CBC veteran, so he’s by no means new to the journalism game.
Before jumping all the way to the conclusion that this journalist (and his editor) were out to lunch, I thought I’d check a couple more sources. A BBC News story made no mention fo mental illness; neither did a Washington Post story or an Australian 7 News story.
This was a domestic violence situation in which a jealous husband accused the wife who was leaving him of having been unfaithful. There is no indication of any reason to think mental illness is at play. The issue is domestic violence, and how police handle women’s reports that they feel their safety is in jeopardy because of their spouse. This is a horrible scenario that repeats itself over and over and over, which is the whole point of this being in the news.
Wading into that it a veteran reporter having a head-up-ass moment and using “psychotic” as a synonym for “violent.” That kind of lazy reliance on stereotypes should be far beneath a veteran reporter and a reputable news source.
Comments on the story were closed, but I left a note using the “report typo or error” feedback system. That was a few days ago, and as of the morning this is published, “psychotic” is still there.
I take issue with this because journalists and other professional writers should be aiming for a higher standard than this. If this was some random person referring to this woman’s ex as a psycho, I’m fine with letting that go. But when a journalist chooses psychotic as a juicy adjective to add oomph to his description, that’s lazy. I say lazy because I doubt he was intentionally trying to reinforce the stereotype; he was probably just going for that juicy word.
Getting lazy and leaning on stereotypes detracts from the actual point of the article. Domestic violence is a horrible thing. That doesn’t need any random exgtras to spice it up a little.
For those people who do associate mental illness with violence, that little “psychotic” was just one more reinforcer, and there are plenty of those already.
So, @CBCChrisBrown, do better next time. Stigma doesn’t belong in the news.
You can find more on mental illness stigma on the Stop the Stigma page.
A Brief History of Stigma is the upcoming new release from Mental Health @ Home Books. It looks at the nature of stigma, the contexts in which it occurs, and how to challenge it most effectively.
Visit the book page for tips on how to be an effective advocate.