This week, we were treated to ‘World Mental Health day’. Aren’t we lucky? Isn’t it nice that we were given an allocated day to feel special and important?
Sorry to start off so sarcastic, but the whole thing p*sses me off. It’s a hollow, pointless lot of noise that ultimately will make very little practical difference to anyone struggling with mental health issues. It’s almost an excuse for the lack of day-to-day support and understanding given to those of us suffering. Sod those other 364 days of the year, that’s totally acceptable because on October 10th the masses can fill their social media streams with trite memes and puke inducing ‘inspirational’ photos. Then they can move on because they’ve done their bit.
That’s a problem with social media in general, of course, not just this particular day. The phenomenon of ‘clicktivism’ is one that irritates and depresses me constantly. We care about an issue for a few minutes, share a petition or a link, and feel like that’s enough. We feel like we’ve ‘done something’. Then we forget all about it. I’ll admit I am guilty of it too.
The point of Tuesday was apparently ‘creating debate’ and ‘getting people talking’. This frustrates me because we are so far past that point now. It’s maybe just a UK centric view, but everyone knows mental illness is fast becoming a national health crisis. It’s in the news all the time, and I hear people discussing it almost daily. Yes, there is still a taboo around mental health, but I think to some extent there always will be.
That’s because these issues scare people. There are things people don’t want to hear about because they’re not nice to hear. It’s not that people assume you’re dangerous or a ‘lunatic’ because you have a diagnosed mental illness. That isn’t how I feel when I tell people about it. What I feel is that they find it upsetting to listen to. Particularly when it comes to self-destructive behaviour and suicidal thoughts. The response is fear; fear for the person they care about and fear that they are expected to step in and do something about it. That’s totally understandable to me.
But I believe that in general, people really are discussing mental health way more than ever before. We don’t need campaigns to create conversation. We need campaigns for change. We need pressure groups to force action. There’s consensus that something has to be done, so why have all this PR effort and fundraising muscle poured into raising the profile of an issue that is already very much in the public awareness? The whole thing just seemed like a pointless lip service campaign to me. Like someone in charge decided they should do something, but didn’t want to actually do anything…
Tuesday was seemingly focused on encouraging people to talk, but also to reach out and ask for help with their mental health problems. I have a massive objection to this rhetoric; that is the simple fact that most people who work up the courage to ask for help from the NHS will be offered nothing. Maybe they’ll get a prescription from their GP, but that’s about the best most people can expect. I didn’t see this massive issue really entering the debate this week. It infuriates me that this well-intentioned event was essentially setting people up for what could be a devastating disappointment. There was no education about the reality of what help is available.
Then, while I was hiding under the blankets on my sofa, too anxious and tearful to get myself to work, I saw some ex boyband member on breakfast TV telling everyone that exercise cured his anxiety and that’s what we all need to do. I wanted to scream at the TV, as the interviewers encouraged him to tell millions of people that if we get ourselves to the gym it will all be better. For those of us who find it a battle to even get out of bed and take a shower, this kind of thing just feels incredibly insensitive and blaming.
The rush from celebrities to get in on it is another thing that I hate. Sure, I can see the value of people in the public eye speaking out about their mental health problems. It helps normalise things, and possibly gives people the courage to ask for help. What grates is feeling like this has become a trendy topic, with celebrities suddenly rushing to be part of it. It’s started to feel like that dreadful ‘ice bucket challenge’ that was around a while ago (yes I loathed that too), with people getting involved just to boost their profiles.
I’m sure some of it is genuine and I am perhaps being overly cynical. That’s just how I am. But if people in the public eye are going to get involved, we need them to put forward an educated voice on what has to happen next.
Those people are out there. I saw comedian Ruby Wax give a lecture on mental illness not long ago. She was fantastic; engaging, empathic and extremely knowledgeable. She’s suffered from mental illness, and is now a Professor of Mental Health Nursing. She has a major public profile, she knows what it is to need the help, and she also has the academic background to make a powerful and articulate argument for change.
This seems to have got a bit ranty now. I guess I am in a cranky, worn out sort of mood at the moment, so I was unlikely to see anything good in what happened on Tuesday. And I suppose it pushed my buttons because I really couldn’t see how any of it is beneficial to the thousands of vulnerable people out there who desperately need real help and support. I’m lucky enough to be able to pay for the treatment I need, but this PR buzz and all the celebrity stories shared this week won’t have changed anything for those who can’t.