Dear celebs, we don’t need your patronising mental health advice

Keep your eyes on the government and away from Instagram

When I first spoke to a friend about writing this, she seemed confused. I cited the example of Joe Sugg becoming an ambassador for Every Mind Matters back in 2019. She was obviously confused by what there was to dislike – the bigger the star attached, the more money for the charity. That’s great. I’m obviously happy his young fans will be encouraged to have a conversation about mental health now that their idol is involved with these charities. But a few questions still remain: How useful is that? How often do we see these celebs continue to speak about these issues outside of their contracted advertisements? And when they do, how productive are a hashtag and a selfie?

Right now the “in-celebrities” are at the forefront of a lot of mental health campaigns – Scarlett Moffatt has become a Samaritans ambassador, Anne-Marie is an ambassador for Mind – and other high profile celebs such as Prince Harry, Katy Perry and Crissy Teigen have recently been praised for opening up about their mental health struggles. While it’s great their talking about their personal experiences they are objectively not qualified to give medical advice. They are not professionals or experts with medical experience. They should not be the first place young people should be going to, particularly when dealing with high-level mental illness.

I want to give some credit to celebrities like Joe Sugg, though. Even in 2019, these conversations were far less widespread, and the majority of young people had never heard of even the more mainstream illnesses, such as depression and anxiety disorder. Clearly, awareness of mental health and mental illnesses has been ongoing on Twitter for at least three years. Still, it is difficult to conclude that we have got much further than where we were in 2019: services remain under-funded and the less “romantic” illnesses remain stigmatised. We now need to move the conversation from awareness to action.

If more money is going to charities, isn’t that a good thing? It is indisputably yes, but it puts pressure on often young fans to fund services the government should subsidise.

In the last decade, we have progressed to the point where reaching out for help is no longer shameful. However, in the same vein, getting help is now far more difficult than asking for it. Even those brave enough to admit their struggles must still maintain their perseverance, and they make it through horrendously long waiting lists for counselling or find some way of paying the bill to go private.

The type of messages being shared by celebrities on Instagram are often so condensed they don’t actually offer any useful information. But they are an easy way for influencers to show surface-level concern without having to go out of their way. Yes, their aims are innocent enough – mental and physical illnesses should hold the same weight – but this assumption doesn’t produce any useful advice. At this point, we need to change tactics to guide people towards resources, and campaign for easier access to the help people desperately need. For the thousands of people willing to repost an infographic on their stories, only a few will take their declaration of support further to donate or volunteer.

On top of this, it is unlikely that anyone at their lowest point in a mental struggle will instinctively share their struggles on Twitter – that’s to be expected. But, as a result, most celebrity mental health tweets have a queasily positive hue. Whilst there are obvious benefits in palatability, it is impossible to illustrate the depth of mental illness in a singular social media post. This is only exacerbated by the obvious limitation of 280 characters.

Mental health is being talked about more as discussion around depression and anxiety, in particular, has broken into the mainstream in recent years. This is an uncontroversially positive outcome in the pursuit of mental health awareness, but it has led to less “romantic” illnesses and neglected symptoms. Selfies and hashtags are easy to share; they remove the potential stress over trigger warnings and they match Instagram themes, but by the same token, they blend in with the onslaught of content already dominating Twitter timelines.

Normalisation is not limited to giving people the courage to ask for a day off when feeling mentally unwell. It must encompass education to children from a young age and the support persists throughout a person’s recovery, beyond just their diagnosis.

The “social” element of platforms such as Twitter is twofold. On the one hand, positive and beneficial conversations are easily facilitated. On the other, it allows people to publicly comment on and analyse strangers on the internet in a way that invalidates others. When celebrities speak out in support of an illness, it paints them in a vulnerable light to their fans, but it equally ties the validity of the illness to the star’s reputation speaking about it.

Realistically, mentally ill celebrities are accepted in a way that ordinary people aren’t. As equally devastating as both are, it’s much easier to romanticise the struggles of Demi Lovato than 52-year-old Janet that works the night shifts at Tesco. Even then, there are equally damning discrepancies between the celebrities themselves, especially those based primarily on non-mainstream platforms. The recently publicised diagnoses of YouTubers Trisha Paytas and Gabbie Hanna – diagnosed with Schizophrenia and ADHD – demonstrate how those that don’t fit the definition of what we perceive mental illness to look like still receive backlash despite their social statuses.

To overcome our collective misconceptions, frank discussions on mental health need to occur in offices, schools and at family gatherings – not just on the internet but in the real world where people can access real solutions. While we all look to see what Love Islanders are posting on mental health week we avert our eyes away from the government’s failures. The ones with the real power to implement changes for young people.

A million celebrity endorsements could never equate to more funding and better school curriculums. Yet we continue to accept whatever crumbs of support we can get from a government that’s been starving us for years. This will never be filled with colourful Instagram posts despite the likes they will inevitably attract. We’re allowing Boris Johnson to wave Dr Alex in our faces as if we are mental health magpies – easily satisfied as long as the exterior appears shiny and new.

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