Rethinking Mental Health

In 2010, disabled model Shannon Murray was selected to be the face of high street retailer Principles. This was the hard-won outcome of a campaign launched by Gok Wan to […]

In 2010, disabled model Shannon Murray was selected to be the face of high street retailer Principles. This was the hard-won outcome of a campaign launched by Gok Wan to represent more people with physical disabilities in advertising and the public eye. Nobody would suggest that this “glamourises” physical disability, because by implication that would suggest that it should never be seen as anything more than unsexy. This would cause unnecessary upset to sufferers. Hopefully nobody would disagree with the point of Gok’s campaign, to impress the point that people with physical disabilities can enjoy glamour in the same way as everybody else.

Recently mental health issues have been given public airspace in order to challenge the deficit of information around the subject and to help people identify with an issue that’s completely common, but often not treated as if it were so. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Frankie Sandford are amongst a few celebrities who have appeared in glossy magazines to talk about their experiences. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been so well received as Gok’s admirable attempt to represent the physically disabled on billboards and the followers of celebrities who’ve talked about mental illness have been subject to undeserved scorn.

Why the different attitude? Mental disability and physical disability often overlap to the point where it’s difficult to make the distinction. Whilst they cover a broad spectrum of complex, nuanced issues, mental illnesses are ultimately the result of having abnormal chemical reactions in your brain: I’d call that a physical disability. It’s stupid not to treat the two campaigns as if they were the same. The inconsistent response to these two similar attempts to raise awareness sheds light on exactly the kind of prejudices about mental illness that these campaigns are trying to eliminate.

The most irritating of these is the notion that there is an epidemic of “designer disorders” a phrase stomach-churning in its ability to immediately make all mental illnesses seem faddy, and thus a target for scorn and resentment of the same kind targeted at teenagers who choose to buy in to ‘Emo’ culture: i.e. vicious. As a grown woman with a mood disorder that amongst other inconveniences has led me to move to 100 miles away on the spur of the moment, it’s demoralising when your experience is trivialised in such a way.

Moaning about teenagers believing that mental issues are cool resents the right of people to have an individual response to mental health issues. Some people may have the misguided belief that self-abuse is a fun lifestyle choice, but give them the freedom to think that it’s cool. That’s the unfortunate side effect of having a media that’s allowed to talk about issues relevant to its readership. If anybody looks upon a story about mental illness and decides “this is the life for me”, then let them develop the symptoms. They’ll either A) See how royally annoying it really is and get some perspective or B)They will develop a mental illness, in which case we should treat them exactly the same as any other mental health patient and try and help them recover.

The benefits of discussing mental health issues manifests in individual recoveries and vastly outweighs the negatives, or at least from the perspective of a mental health patient. Those who suggest that these efforts encourage faddy illnesses are missing the point.