Mental health has been at the forefront of the media’s attention in recent weeks. In the fortnight either side of the 2017 London Marathon the excellent BBC Show “Mind Over Marathon” showed us the efforts of 10 people with a variety of debilitating mental conditions as they prepared to run the marathon. This show was amazing, and really resonated with me. We were expertly guided through a potential minefield of issues by host Nick Knowles, who demonstrated empathy, incredulity and compassion in equal parts.
We also saw the involvement of 3 high profile members of the Royal Family, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, who all met the participants, discussed the issues surrounding mental illness and even discussed their own experiences, most notably William opening up about his experience following the death of his mother, Princess Diana. William at one point provided great reassurance to one participant, whose infant son died suddenly before her husband (overcome with grief) committed suicide within days of their tragic loss. Concerned that her two remaining children would be affected by events in adulthood, she asked him if he thought they’d be ok, and his reply was that with a mother like her they surely would.
At times during the two episodes (featuring the build-up to the race and the day itself) I was moved to tears, as was my wife. The levels of real understanding showed in the show, the perfect way they captured the struggles people with mental health issues face, the sheer joy on display in the participants – all of these massively moved me. For a show to deal with these issues with such a sense of responsibility was extremely reassuring, and demonstrated how much effective work is being done to combat the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Earlier this week, premiership footballer Aaron Lennon was detained under the Mental Health Act for his own safety. Many high profile personalities in football and beyond expressed concern and support for him. Again, this was reassuring.
Today, I saw the other side of the media – the seedy, turgid underbelly of those paid to state opinions that most find reprehensible. Often the target of my ire in cases like this is Katie Hopkins, but today the one who caught my attention is Piers Morgan. This week Brad Pitt features in GQ magazine, and in the article discusses his mental wellbeing. His discussion of it is relatively brief, although he does talk about using therapists. In response to this, Jonathan Heaf (Features Director for British GQ) tweeted:
Morgan, quoting this tweet, replied with his own commentary:
A series of replies to his tweets were subsequently quoted by Morgan with his own retorts:
This, frankly, has pissed me right off.
I think Piers is trying to say that he thinks some well know figures are being insincere about mental health issues – exaggerating or inventing them – as some kind of marketing gimmick. I think he’s trying to say that this is potentially harmful. I think he is suggesting this might dilute or trivialise those who have “real” issues.
I think all of these things, but I’m not sure because Morgan, who is a professional communicator, is being unclear and massively irresponsible with his rhetoric.
Piers Morgan has 5.75million followers. That’s a big number – a lot of people. Statistically, 1 in 4 people will face mental health issues in their lifetimes, and we know that a great many of those will suffer them persistently and repeatedly. Theoretically, that means almost 1.5million of Morgan’s followers might have mental health issues. If even one of those people reads his comments and decides against getting help because they should “Man Up”, the consequences could be horrific.
Why do I care so much about this issue? I have suffered mental health issues. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety 7 years ago. My inability to recognise the need for help, and later reluctance to seek help when I realised I needed it, almost cost me my marriage. If it had, it is entirely feasible this would have led to me considering suicide – thankfully it never got that far. My wife’s cousin committed suicide. My sister–in-law used to volunteer at the Samaritans, speaking with people who were often suicidal.
Speaking from experience, one of the biggest challenges of being mentally ill as a man (I can’t speak for women, nor would I try) is feeling able to speak about it, to seek help and to have people know. The number of times I heard “what have you got to be depressed about?” or “we would never have known – you always seem so happy” was draining in the extreme. But this also led me to realise that if you can you absolutely must talk about it. This isn’t my first blog post about mental health and stigma – I wrote a blog on the Time To Change website some time ago.
Since my own awareness and perception changed, I am more than happy to talk about my experience. Just the other day I discovered from a neighbour that her son recently attempted suicide, and was struggling as the other men in his family are “old school” – they don’t understand, can’t talk about it all. I explained to her that I’d had similar (albeit less extreme) issues and would be happy to chat with him, on his terms.
If this makes others who don’t have these issues uncomfortable, tough shit – it’s not about you. Enjoy your clean bill of mental health, be fucking grateful and keep your discomfort to yourself – this isn’t about you.
My willingness to speak to others about my issues is partly about me – I can admit that – it helps me. Again, if that makes others uncomfortable, it’s a price I’m willing for them to pay for my own wellbeing.
Mostly, my openness about these issues though are about others. My hope is that if I show that I, an outwardly confident, assertive, gregarious guy, can discuss mental health so can they. If my doing so means one person gets help when they otherwise wouldn’t have, job done.
So my message to Piers Morgan is to use the “power” that nearly 6million Twitter followers, newspaper columns and TV shows brings more wisely and compassionately. I’ve admired Morgan for his anti-gun stance in the States, been dismayed at his affection for Trump, been irritated by his fawning over Kevin Pietersen and been amused by his tweets about football. Today he really got on my tits, and he needs to do better.
If Brad Pitt’s article had been read two weeks ago by Aaron Lennon, perhaps this weeks headlines would have been different? That’s about as simply as I can put it – I couldn’t give a shite if Morgan is made uncomfortable by Pitt opening up in the press. I actually don’t care if someone advising Pitt said “this would give you good optics during the divorce”, so long as someone (anyone)m can see the coverage and think “shit – if Brad Pitt – Brad bloody Pitt – can admit to needing help, maybe I can too”. That’s all that matters.
Finally, if you think you have any mental health issues, whatsoever, please speak to your GP, a friend, a loved one, or someone like the Samaritans. Better that you call them and find out you didn’t need to, than choose not to when you do.