We all love to boo a pantomime baddie, but that’s usually because they’re stealing a magic lamp or weaving destructive magic spells. We know it’s all made up and we know they’ll get their comeuppance. But yet again, Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan are enjoying the boos and hisses by taking their pantomime into real life. They’re baiting us with mental health stigma. Sadly, that’s not fictional.
BBC Question Time was a prime hook for the recent onslaught of mental health provocation with Katie Hopkins, rather predictably, tweeting:
Of course the mentally ill are fair game aren’t they. They’re bound to get upset and have a tantrum. That’ll get the Twitter engagement figures flying. That’ll land more controversial headlines.
It was much the same with Piers Morgan’s recent attacks on Will Young:
Mental health campaigner Denise Welch rightly called him out which resulted in more mud-slinging from the lovely Piers who called Denise a ‘publicity-starved bore’. Nice.
So why am I falling into the trap and talking about them some more? Because they already have the platform and the airtime. They already have the ears and eyes of millions of people. And they already have the power to influence. Sadly.
Pedalling mental health stigma, something that the Time to Change campaign has been fighting for years, doesn’t just create pantomime style rows on Twitter. It goes beyond that. And the rows go beyond Piers v Denise. I saw so many Piers Morgan supporters attacking the ‘trend’ of mental illness, some claiming that mental illness wasn’t even around in the 60s and 70s – that it’s a new thing. Some saying, in line with Katie Hopkins’ recent opinion about Prince Harry speaking out, that they preferred the ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to life.
So imagine this. You’re a man in his 30s. You’ve been struggling to get out of bed in the morning. Your mood has dropped. You’re can’t concentrate at work and you’re making mistakes. Your boss has noticed that you’ve been consistently late recently. But you’re not sleeping properly.
You’re starting to contemplate the idea that you might, possibly, have a mental illness.
You go onto Twitter to check your notifications. You see that Will Young has been called ‘whiny’. You see people saying that the Brits should bring back their ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to life. You see that mental illness is just an excuse to everyday challenges in life.
You think, Christ, I need to pull myself together. This is ridiculous. I don’t have a mental health problem.
You get up for work the next day, but you’re really struggling now. You’re chastising yourself for considering that your laziness could really be a health problem. You’re unable to speak coherently in meetings. It’s bringing on panic. Every time you need to speak to people you’re getting heart palpitations and sweating profusely. You start skipping meetings.
But you can’t go to the doctor. You need to be strong. And you certainly can’t say anything at work. They’d think you were weak, just like everyone says on Twitter.
Things get worse and worse. You receive a final warning from your boss. You’ve lost your job. Now there’s nothing to get out of bed for. You feel guilty for being so weak that you hide away from your friends and family. And your money troubles are getting worse. You’re not eating properly and your physical health is failing. Your mortgage payment is late…
You can see where I’m going with this. The ‘stiff upper lip’ approach is dangerous. But big influencers like Piers and Katie are pushing it. And the media are giving them an even bigger platform to shout it from. Mainstream morning television for God’s sake.
So there is a reason for bringing this up. And it’s not to create more headlines for Piers and Katie, but it’s in the hope that people see how dangerous their attention-grabbing controversy is. And in the hope that somebody will take responsibility for putting this stuff out there.
Provoking mental health stigma might put Piers and Katie in the headlines, but it has the power to put other people in hospital. Or worse. And we need to remember that. The media that gives them the platforms they crave need to remember that it’s a double edged sword. Your ratings might be going up – but that’s actually creating an even bigger health risk for society.
Do you really want to be responsible for that?
Follow me on Twitter @lucy_nichol78
You can buy my book on mental health stigma, A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes, here.