This has been swirling around in my head for years, so far I’ve kept it to rants on twitter in 140 characters or fewer but it deserves more words.
Today’s twitter rant actually leapt over the line from ‘rant’ to ‘just plain old abuse’ I don’t care-
It was a long time coming.
To quote, from the Rethink article
“We wish her all the best in getting through this difficult time and commend her for her continued honesty when it comes to talking about mental health.
When celebrities speak frankly about mental illness they go a long way in helping to break down the stigma that still surrounds it.”
It’s a commonly held misconception with MH organisations that celebrity mentalism does anything at all to break down stigma. I’ve had this conversation calmly with Rethink and others in the past; I’ve also tried to get Rethink to make reference to dissociative disorders and DID on their website, they gave me some lame excuse about not having information available, I told them where they could get information, I offered to write information they still haven’t done anything about it.
That is stigma
Being afflicted by the MH equivalent of leprosy I am all too familiar with stigma, most of it comes from the NHS but the fact that MH organisations such as Rethink and SAMH refuse to make any reference to dissociative disorders or DID does nothing but compound the idea that it is the illness that must not be spoken of.
I am eternally grateful to Mind for their leaflet on dissociative disorders, it’s a great place to start for information, my only complaint is that they even address the ‘does DID exist’ issue (see ‘other theories’), to be fair they handle it very well but until mainstream literature stops even considering whether DID ‘exists’ or not, people will continue to question it.
So my rant at Rethink today has a bit of a history but my original point and one I have made many times is that celebrities ‘confessing’ to having mental illness does nothing other than provide a bit of a news flurry, an opportunity for the media to tie themselves up in knots about semantics and a few interviews, maybe a book deal for the celebrity in question.
Celebrity experience of mental illness never reflects the day-to-day reality for those of us living with a mental illness. I accept that the way celebrity and the media work are probably to blame for this but we cannot challenge stigma with
Has breakdown- goes to Thailand- is all better now.
Has breakdown- keeps job- writes books- gets more jobs- is all better now.
‘Catches’ bipolar- goes to clinic for 4 days- drinks smoothies- makes film- is all better now.
Has breakdown- goes to Priory- enhances career with a touch of mentalism- gets more jobs- is all better now.
My frustration is both personal and on the behalf of the many people I have come to know and love who are struggling with mental illness. All of these people have ‘bravery’ and ‘honesty’ in bucketloads- and the MH organisations follow most of them on twitter so see their stories unfolding every day. Day-to-day existence with a mental illness is grim, protracted and painful. Mental illness is pervasive; it destroys lives and steals futures. For most of us getting any care and treatment is a fight, getting the correct care and treatment is a fight, for most of us neither Thailand or the Priory is an option- if we can make it through the humiliating, degrading DLA and ESA application processes without attempting to end our own lives, we may have enough money to scrape by on.
Celebrity mentalism and the discussion of it could be a great platform for more useful discussion- discussion that perhaps does something to effect change, something tangible, but it rarely is.
Every day I have to watch people I care about going without care and treatment, being refused help, being mistreated, struggling, fighting, being brave. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has got what they need, when they needed it. I’m currently watching someone I love very much suffer through months and months of having no hot water due to massive incompetence on the part of her housing association, she’s got sicker as a result- I don’t see Rethink jumping in with a statement of support.
Mainstream media does and will always use celebrity mentalism as a platform for nothing more than gawking but I think we should expect more of MH organisations.
There is an army of honest, brave, frank bloggers within the Madosphere (most comprehensive blogroll here at TWIM)- all of them challenge stigma far more than any 15 minute interview with a celebrity (and you’ll note that those interviews are all ‘when I was mental’).
All of these bloggers provide education and information about mental illness- and any of them could be your next door neighbour, your daughter, your son, your boss, your postman, your GP, your child’s teacher, the checkout operator at Tesco, your friend. They just might not be famous enough to make the difference they deserve to make, they just might not be famous enough to really challenge the way you think about mental illness.