July 03, 2020
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Vogue Portugal Faces Backlash Over ‘Deeply Problematic’ Cover
Vogue Portugal’s July/August issue is facing a backlash for fuelling stigma and trivialising mental health.
The cover, which is one of four shared as part of the magazine’s “Madness Issue”, shows a naked woman in what appears to be a psychiatric hospital, hunched over and hugging herself while being washed by two nurses.
A photo of the cover was shared on the publication’s Instagram account, with the caption: “It’s about love. It’s about life. It’s about us. It’s about you. It’s about now. It’s about health. It’s about mental health.”
But many are appalled over the messaging. Journalist, author, and mental health campaigner, Poorna Bell, who lost her husband Rob to suicide five years ago, says the cover is “deeply problematic” on two counts.
“Not only does it trivialise mental health by calling it the ‘madness’ issue,” she tells HuffPost UK, “the image itself will be troubling and triggering to so many.”Related... Kids May Be At Risk Of Post-Traumatic Stress. Here's How To Spot It The image perpetuates the stigma of psychiatric hospitals, says Bell. It also “dehumanises” anyone who has been – or needs to go – to hospital, she adds, recalling a time when Rob, who was struggling with depression and addiction, went to a psychiatric hospital.
“The stigma around it was so great we didn’t feel able to tell anyone, and he felt deeply ashamed at needing to go to one – despite the fact that it was medical help he really needed,” she says.
“That’s why it’s important to break down the stigma around it, and Vogue Portugal should be utterly ashamed of what they’ve done as it will reinforce all of that stigma.”Related... Frank Bruno Helped Change How Mental Health Is Spoken About In Sport. Where's The Conversation Now? Consultant psychiatrist Dr Sarah Vohra has called on Vogue Portugal to remove the issue from sale, apologise and educate themselves. “This is everything that is wrong with the portrayal of mental illness in the media,” she tweeted. “It is not something to be glamourised or falsely and damagingly portrayed.”
Meanwhile Molly King, a student mental health nurse who has previously been sectioned, says she’s “disgusted” with the cover. “As a person with lived experience of mental illness and having spent nine months in hospital as a result, I found this cover beyond hurtful,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“Mental illness isn’t a fashion trend, nor something to be glamorised. I want to know why they felt this was acceptable and what they were aiming to achieve by publishing such damaging content both through the images and terminology of ‘madness’.”Mental illness isn’t a fashion trend.Molly King, a student mental health nurseJo Loughran, director of Time to Change, which is run by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, says it’s “disappointing” to see the outdated depiction of what looks to be a psychiatric hospital – especially on the cover of such a high-profile magazine.
“Mental health isn’t a fashion statement,” she tells HuffPost UK, echoing King’s comments. “The shame and isolation that many of us with mental health problems experience is only made worse by imagery like this which fuels people’s lack of understanding.”
It’s well known that negative attitudes towards mental illness can stop people from getting the help they need. Time To Change says the shame and silence can be as bad as the mental health problem itself. And compounding negative attitudes towards mental health problems can lead to discrimination.Related... Working Through Covid-19 Has Taught Us Compassion. That Needs To Last Loughran says while it’s good to see Vogue Portugal trying to raise awareness of mental health in this issue, “doing so behind this cover is not acceptable”.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this,” she says. “Some really strong stories that may include great content and have educational value are sometimes weakened by the use of inappropriate images.”
Photographer Elliott Morgan branded the cover “extremely disrespectful” and said he couldn’t believe it was approved. Bell agrees. Having worked as a journalist for a number of years, she says the cover would’ve been “signed off by so many people” – including those at the most senior level. “It beggars belief that not one of them thought it was wrong.”
However, Loughran adds: “While this cover is incredibly disappointing, it’s encouraging to know the public will no longer stand to see mental illness used as a gimmick. When people feel empowered to call out stigma it can send a powerful message to the world – that stigmatising mental health problems is never acceptable.”
HuffPost UK has contacted Condé Nast for comment and will update this piece if we receive a response. 
Vogue Portugal states the July/August issue is available from July 10.
Useful websites and helplines
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk
Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.
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