'PTSD is not a punchline' open letter: Response
Recently, we wrote an ‘Open Letter’ to ITV regarding a joke that Ant and Dec made about PTSD in the latest series of I’m a Celebrity.
We noted in the letter that “Using PTSD as a punchline in a joke not only further stigmatises the reality of the condition, but it also incorrectly and unhelpfully desensitises people to the debilitating symptoms that can lead to family problems, unemployment, physical health issues, self-harm, homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction, and ultimately suicide.” and called for ITV to simply ‘try to do better. Support those who need support, don’t undermine your own brilliant campaigns, and stand by your word to help those struggling with mental health issues.’ (read the full letter here)
A couple of weeks have passed since we published the letter and thought we should update you on the response we’ve had from supporters, the media and ITV themselves to highlight the importance of us ‘taking a stand’ like this.
The positive response we got from PTSD UK Supporters was overwhelming. As a small, and relatively new charity, when we take bold steps like this, it’s always important for us to know that we’re doing the right thing for the people we support. Of course, it goes without saying that there was some feedback from people saying they were not offended by the statement, or that sometimes people use humour/self-deprecation to deflect from the pain of a situation (although we feel this is only appropriate if the person is affected by the condition themselves) but the overwhelming majority of PTSD UK Supporters felt it was the right thing to do, and were happy we ‘took the lead’ on this situation that they see as unacceptable.
- “Thank you on behalf of all of us xx”
- “Thanks PTSD UK! You’ve done a great thing! It’s serious and the implications of a joke will cause more desensitisation of this very debilitating thing! I already feel alone in this as people around me don’t understand this.”
- “Thanks for highlighting this and making ITV aware PTSD is not a joke. Keep up the good work raising awareness”
- “Well written. PTSD/CPTSD, most definitely is no joke! I hope they read and take on board, and reflect on what they said. Thank you for writing to them.”
- “I struggle every day and hearing people make a joke out of it hurts and makes me question myself. If they had any insight into what it’s like, I’m sure they might feel differently.”
- “I’ve seen a lot of this lately, I am so glad that you have addressed this issue! PTSD isn’t a joke and never will be.”
- “I thought the exact same thing when they made a joke of it maybe they should try and live with it Day in day out it’s unbearable sometimes and totally out of order to use it as a joke”
- “While I admit part of dealing with my own symptoms is my dark sense of humour acquired through years of frontline ambulance work (a coping mechanism most of us develop), and I reserve the right to poke fun at my own demons – I think it inappropriate that prime-time television makes light of it.”
- “Thanks for addressing the damage a ‘gag’ about PTSD can have on those who live with it and their family and friends. PTSD and CPTSD are as far removed from the a joke as possible. You’re representing us and future PTSD / CPTSD survivors, as well as making it clear to all that these illnesses are humourless. Keep on with your wondrous work.”
- “It absolutely breaks my heart every time I hear people say ‘I’ve got PTSD’ as a passing comment, when they have no idea what sufferers go through. Watching someone blacking out, convulsing and reliving mental and physical pain day after day. Not wanting to live anymore. It’s comments and jokes like that, that makes their journey so much harder as perceptions are so diluted to the condition .”
- “It is upsetting when many people trivialise the condition by mentioning it as a throw away comment. Thank you for showing leadership on this”
- “Thank you @ptsd_ukfor speaking up about this.”
After posting the open letter on our website and sharing it on our social media channels, we also sent it directly to ITV and asked them to respond.
In the meantime, TV Personality Katie Price (who interviewed our founder Jacqui as part of a recent TV show ‘Trauma and me’) shared our post on Instagram to her 2.5 million followers with the ‘round of applause’ emojis – catapulting our letter into the media where it was picked up by a number of outlets including Metro, Yahoo News, The Sun, The Mirror, Lad Bible and others – each of which contacted ITV for a response.
Following our direct outreach to ITV, they replied privately with the following disappointing response:
Thank you for corresponding with us and informing us of the disappointment you felt around the comments on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. The off the cuff remarks made by Ant & Dec during a live link were not in any way intended to disrespect those experiencing PTSD, but were a self-deprecating extension of a running joke about their music career, delivered in their usual tongue in cheek style which has become well established on the show.
As such, we feel that the remarks were within established audience expectations and that viewers would have accepted them in the humorous, good natured manner in which they were intended and would not have considered that that the remarks were intended to stigmatise anyone experiencing the condition or desensitise viewers to its debilitating symptoms.
ITV is committed to producing and broadcasting content that reaches and inspires positive change in the wider world, with our Britain Get Talking campaign focusing on mental health.
Going forward, the production team have noted the concerns you have raised and these concerns will be factored in to any future scripting.
ITV Customer & Viewer Services
We were disappointed by the response, in that ITV are excusing the ‘joke’ because of who said it, and that the audience expect it?! As such, we have responded to ITV with the following:
Thank you for your email, but I’d like to highlight that not only are we disappointed with the initial ‘joke’, but also your response.
To clarify and confirm our understanding of your position, you’re saying that because of who said the ‘joke’, and because you feel the audience expects these kinds of ‘quips’, that it’s acceptable to make jokes about serious mental health conditions?
Are we to expect the presenters to be making jokes about cancer, dementia, AIDS, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, anorexia or any other condition because of who they are, and that the audience ‘expect’ this type of joke from them? I assume not. Indeed I feel uncomfortable even using such conditions as reference points in this email!
To be clear on our position, this isn’t about so-called ‘snowflake culture’ or not being able to take a joke, this is about equality and not perpetuating the lack of understanding and stigma surrounding mental health conditions. As we mentioned in our original letter PTSD is a condition that can cause debilitating symptoms and lead to family problems, unemployment, physical health issues, self-harm, homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction, and ultimately suicide. Equality, understanding and ensuring people feel they can speak up when they’re struggling, without fear of ridicule or ‘quips’ about their condition, is something we need to address, so we can save lives. Isn’t that what Britain Get Talking supports?
Carolyn McCall, ITV Chief Executive stated that “At the heart of ITV’s social purpose strategy is this new five year commitment to help make mental wellness a priority in all our lives. The campaign highlights the importance of talking and listening in building mental wellness, ensuring we make looking after our mental health as much of a part of our daily lives and culture as our physical health.” but we feel that making mental health conditions the punchline to a joke is unlikely to foster a culture where people feel they can speak up and ask for help.
We applaud your ambitions, but feel that you’ve not delivered on your very commendable strategy (and in fact done considerable damage instead) and are always willing to highlight and discuss PTSD with anyone at ITV who perhaps doesn’t understand the serious nature of mental health conditions.
We look forward to your response.
PTSD survivor and Founder & CEO of PTSD UK
A further response has now been received from ITV, stating:
It is with regret that you found our previous response unsatisfactory.
To clarify, the PTSD comment was not scripted but was made off the cuff in a live broadcast so there was no opportunity to edit it from the programme. We apologise for the offence caused.
In the UK we operate under a strict regulatory framework managed by Ofcom. If you remain unsatisfied with ITV’s response and you still wish to pursue this complaint further, please contact our regulator Ofcom.
ITV Customer & Viewer Services
Since this response from ITV, we’ve written directly to Ant and Dec, and await their response from them or their representatives. We’ll update our supporters with more details as we have them.
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It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.