We shouldn’t shy away from the ugly side of mental illness

1 in 4 of us experience mental illness at some point in our lives – but its prevalence doesn’t make it an easy ride.

We have the US president tackling the ‘stigma’ of guns by blaming mass shootings on mental illness instead.

But the image of violent mentally ill people is untrue. According to Time to Change, the majority of violent crimes and homicides are committed by people who do not have mental health problems, yet 90% of people who die through suicide each year are experiencing mental distress.

And at the other end of the scale, I feel it’s unfair to talk of the ‘common’ disorders (e.g. depression and anxiety) as if they’re nothing more than feeling a bit down or on edge.

Read the full article on Metro.

It’s not a party lifestyle that drives stars to self-medication, it’s the pressure to carry on regardless

The media has reported that Ant McPartlin is undergoing treatment for depression and addiction issues. He’s certainly not the first celebrity to have fallen foul of self-medication. But why do stars head down this path, when surely they have access to the best doctors and treatment programmes in existence?

Think about it this way. You’ve bought a ticket to see, let’s say, Madonna (disclaimer – the next three paragraphs are entirely fictional – as far as I know). You’ve spent about £60 on the ticket, £150 on transport and £100 on accommodation. The venue holds around 50,000. It’s a sell out. On tickets alone you’re looking at costs of £3m. But then Madonna gets food poisoning. She can’t perform. Luckily, she has an understudy who is just as successful, let’s say, Kylie Minogue. So the show can go on.

Wrong. That might happen in my day job. The bosses might bring in a temp or a freelancer or share the workload out. But when you’re a celebrity, it’s you, specifically, that the people want. It’s you, or nothing. You paid for Into the Groove not I Should Be So Lucky (showing my age here I know).

So Madonna might be puking her guts up but she’s feeling the pressure to perform. Nobody can step in for her. She’s necking Imodium, anti-nausea pills and paracetamol like there’s no tomorrow. She simply must perform. But if she keeps this up, her body won’t function especially well without those pills, and this is where the problems start.

Now I don’t know the full ins and outs of Ant McPartlin’s illness. Only what’s reported in the media. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the pressure to keep going for the sake of his employers, his fans, his partner, his family, his reputation, even, didn’t play some kind of role in his troubles.

Yes, it’s an assumption. And no, I’m not suggesting that his employer, partner, family, fans put the pressure on. But if you know people are depending on you, applying that pressure yourself really isn’t terribly far-fetched.

PillsDepression can be a chronic illness that takes time to recover from, but often stars do not have that luxury. I’ve had five weeks off work for anxiety, I’ve known people forced to take six months off for depression or stress. But can celebrities do the same? Or do they have to hit rock bottom before they feel justified to do so? My guess is it’s more often than not the latter. So if you’re depressed and anxious and you feel you need to get through just one more show, what would you do? Take a valium perhaps? I know somebody very well who saw a doctor through an employer (in entertainment) due to depression and anxiety. The doctor they saw (not in the UK) was literally throwing pills at them left right and centre. It got them on the stage, it got them through their struggles in the short-term, but it created a longer term problem.

So when we look at stars and their ‘wild’ or ‘intoxicated’ behaviour, can we always assume it’s a reckless act? That’s it’s somebody living a celebrity lifestyle, having access to whatever they want, whenever they want? Or should we consider that sometimes, this kind of recklessness is born of hard graft and the pressure to keep going at all costs? Luckily, the media and public response to Ant McPartlin appears to have been wholly supportive. And that is absolutely the right response to have. But Ant and Dec had already established themselves as a wholesome, family act. What about people like Amy Winehouse, who tackled the demons of mental illness from a young age? Who exploded onto our radar as a bit of a ‘wild child’.

I watched the documentary, Amy. Friends talked of her being bundled into a taxi unconscious through intoxication and flown to another country to perform on stage. Maybe if she felt she could have stopped just for long enough to recover, she’d have stood a better chance?

The problems are very similar. It’s just that we, the public, didn’t know Amy for long before her downfall and, tragically, her death. We had much longer to get to know that Ant McPartlin is a good guy and we therefore see his illness as precisely that, an illness.

The response is good. We all wish him well. But in future, let’s remember this empathy we hold for Ant McPartlin and extend it to others in need of support too.

Follow me on Twitter @lucy_nichol78

Stop using mental health as bait

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.

MegaphoneBBC Question Time was a prime hook for the recent onslaught of mental health provocation with Katie Hopkins, rather predictably, tweeting:

‘Breaking news: it is possible to pay for mental health counselling privately if you save hard enough’.

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:

‘Will Young does not have PTSD. He has WNTS – Whiny Needy Twerp Syndrome.’

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.

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Pipe down Piers

There’s a charter for those who work in PR, marketing, accountancy and HR. It’s to promote responsibility. Yet celebrities – who have a much greater influence than I have, for example, in my PR role – don’t have to sign up to anything.

So it’s kind of about trust and good will. What would you do if you had such a powerful platform? If one tweet could reach millions? If you could completely change somebody’s day? Would you try to do something to help? Or would you ridicule those who do?

It’s ironic, really, that Piers Morgan accused Denise Welch of using mental health to raise her profile. He uses his nasty pantomime act to gain attention a la Katie Hopkins. I watched Good Morning Britain one morning on the TV in the gym. It was the interview with Nicola Thorp who was sacked for refusing to wear high heels.  It was deliberately provocative, of course. Does he really believe women should wear high heels or face losing their job? Whether he does or not it’s shocking. Shocking that he believes in something so blatantly sexist or, on the other hand, shocking that he is willing to peddle such shite to draw in the ratings in a cheap and nasty Jerry Springer show kind of way.

It’s Good Morning Britain. It’s mainstream telly. I’ve never watched it since leaving the gym that day.

But I couldn’t get off Twitter last night.

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Review: Mad Girl

I’m a bit late to the party with this little beauty from Bryony Gordon. But I’m bloody glad I turned up….fashionably.

Mad Girl tackles the topic of OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Specifically, it’s Bryony’s personal experience of living with OCD and that’s why it’s equally authentic, uplifting and pee your pants funny.

First of all let’s get one thing clear. You won’t receive a diagnosis of OCD based purely on the fact that your idea of R&R involves donning the marigolds and wafting the feather duster. That just means you like things clean (or, in some cases, dirty. Ahem). OCD is an illness. And it’s really not very nice.

But the important thing about sharing stories about mental illness, in my opinion, is striking a balance between the often dark thoughts and symptoms and the strength and hope that can overcome them. Mad Girl does this brilliantly.

Bryony’s life has been blighted by dark and terrible symptoms. But overall, all things considered, she’s lived a really happy, successful and loving life. She is living proof that it can happen.

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What the actual f**k is this!?

It’s tough enough identifying what’s real and what’s anxiety, but what the actual fuck is this!?

Anxiety makes me doubt everything.

‘Chris, the hens are absolutely over run with red mite’.

‘OK love, I’m on my way home, I’ll pick some stuff up to fix it’.

Doubt pings into my racing mind. Did I really see red mite? Yep, definitely red mite. They’re moving, the nasty little fuckers. Poor girls. I’ll clean them out.

Bin bag goes in the bin. Bin bag gets pulled from the bin. Bin bag ripped open to double check if they were really there. Bin bag put back. Bin bag checked again.

That’s the problem with mental illness, as much as you acknowledge it, read up on it, talk about it, it still plays games with your convalescing mind.

But what the actual fuck is this!?

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It REALLY couldn’t happen to a nicer…PR person

Me and TomMy mate Tom lives the life of a 90s PR. Those halcyon days when journalists had time to lunch with you at the restaurant responsible for underwriting your mortgage.

In reality, me and Tom (or Tom and I, as he will no doubt correct me) were just starting out in our PR and marketing careers back then, and all we knew of this glitzy lifestyle was Patsy and Edina’s version.

Still, Tom continues to embrace the Absolutely Fabulous notion that PR is glam. His house is equipped with a mahogany drinks cabinet and he always greets you with a ‘filthy fizz’ in a ridiculous champagne saucer. The fizz is usually accompanied by a new and searing insult.

“Are you really wearing those pedal pushers with those cankles, darling?”; or “What’s with the Croydon facelift?”; or “Did you wake up in 1992 this morning?”

I wrote about him recently for the #InYourCorner campaign by Time to Change. Because, through all my ups and downs, he’s always been there for me. But he needed me too.

Read the full article on Standard Issue