Famous depression sufferer (and a hero of mine) Stephen Fry

How mental health week has made me famous

No, you aren’t going mad – our TV’s have been taken over by mental health week programming. The ABC’s #mentalas programming in particular as been inescapable.

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The station has just embarked on its biggest-ever cross promotion of content, with mental health the focus. It’s been an orgy of illness and I think it’s brilliant. Well, compared to RUOK day in any case.

Both endeavours attempt to encourage mental health conversations in the community but to me one feels forced, the other, free. One commercialised, the other raw. Sorry Hugh Jackman.

RUOK day definitely has good intentions and some people rave about both the concept and its effectiveness. To me, it’s another strapline for teenagers to mock and ridicule and I really REALLY don’t think mental health issues need more ridicule.

Plus (sob) did a single person ask if I was ok on the day? No….And, even if they did, what would I have replied? I would have lied no doubt. “Yes yes, I’m fine”… Because asking a hollow question will get a hollow response.

And often people who ask “are you OK?” might be petrified about your answer because they dont fully understand your condition and how on earth they’ll respond if you say “I’m not coping”.

It’s not that I’m hating on RUOK day, don’t get me wrong. If it helps even one person with their condition than I completely applaud the campaign. It’s just that I think the ABC are doing the conversation piece better. I feel like they’re accurately painting a portrait of ME, and what I live through. And even though it isn’t my face on screen, by representing those like me, I do feel a little bit famous.

For once it seems like stigmas are being properly challenged and confronted in the media without the mentally ill being unintentionally put “on show” as freaks.

Here’s what I’ve learned from the #mentalas campaign:

Felicity's Mental Mission, ABC
Felicity’s Mental Mission, ABC
  • 1) Insanity is ugly. That’s why there’s little government funding, support worker budgets slashed and no one wants to talk about it.

Mental illness looks like your mum drinking herself to death to drown out the voices in her head. It’s a middle-aged man thinking god has impregnated him with the next messiah. It’s a teenager looking at a length of rope and thinking, “maybe this is my answer?”

People hate ugly. People avoid ugly. But our society is making a crucial error in judgement here: Mental illness is ugly – the people who suffer it are not.

My mum had cancer. She lost her hair. She lost her eyebrows. She lost a breast. She has a suite of scars that can leave you breathless with sympathy. But is she ugly? Hell no! We all accept it was the cancer that was to blame. No one turned away from my mum during her time of need. But someone with psychosis? Different story. We are blaming them. Pitying them. And turning away from them. Both socially and politically as ABC’s Q&A pointed out so brilliantly.

  • 2) People with mental disorders aren’t weak.

I have endured at least a decade feeling pathetic as a result of my anxiety. There are times when I’ve found it all too much; turned down invitations to parties where “cool kids” will be because I know the stress of choosing the right outfit will actually break me. I know my thoughts are irrational but I can not control them. This lack of control makes me feel weak.

And for those suffering other forms of mental disorders lets spare a moment to consider what they go through. Their minds are literally hijacked – they become confused, profoundly sad, and they fear it is hopeless.

Imagine if every day, the simplest of tasks weighed you down, but you kept on trying to do them anyway. This is not weakness. It is bravery.

Sometimes, just driving a car makes me feel like I’m wading through mud with a backpack on. And leg weights. But I still try. Sometimes, I give up and cancel an engagement because I just can’t manage my nerves behind the wheel. But other times I do ok. I take each day as it comes.

Some people’s conditions are so severe that they can’t do what they want. Their obstacles are insurmountable.

We met some of these people in the ABC’s Changing Minds documentaries, and were gifted with insights into the lives of sufferers of psychosis.

These people are GOOD people.  They do not need judgement. They are not weak; but they do need help.

If you broke an arm, would you need help? Yes. Would we call you weak? No.

Let’s be clear. Like physical illness, mental disorders can temporarily weaken you. It doesn’t make you weak.

  • 3) More people suffer than we realise because this is the “silent disease“.

Not only does mental health feed on silence in the mind (so perfectly described in Felicity’s Mental Mission) but due to feelings of shame, many are unprepared to speak out.

Apparently, more than 10million Aussies suffer some mental health condition. That’s almost half of us! As we learned from the Robin Williams tragedy, no one is “safe” from mental illness. It’s as indiscriminate as cancer. As unforeseeable. And every bit as life changing.

So this is it. My cyber applause for the ABC for giving us really stimulating content that gets people thinking and talking and understanding more about mental illness.

And here’s my humble request. Keep it coming. Don’t stop. Don’t leave it to one week per annum.

I felt less alone watching myself reflected on the faces of these documentaries than I did on RUOK day, wondering whether anyone was going to pick up the phone and call me.

What do you want to see more of in the media to help educate the nation about mental illness?

3 thoughts on “How mental health week has made me famous

  1. I started reading your Stress Less Jess posts because you are a friend of a friend (we’ve met once) but now I look forward to them. You are funny, articulate & most of all, relevant. Thanks for your insight & the time & energy this must take from your “normal” life ☺️

  2. Thanks Jess – I think the ABC had done a brilliant job and I’ve especially loved tuning in to Fran Kelly’s honest and compassionate interviews and features throughout Breakfasts on Radio National. Hope the awareness of mental health goes well beyond a dedicated week! Things in the public and private health sphere REALLY need a shakeup and rather than MORE money, it needs to be spent more on preventative measures is my two cents!

  3. I came through your link in the Aussie parenting blogs group and I didn’t want to click out without replying. I have nothing more to add, but I loved this post!

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