Mental health campaigner Matt Haig tweets this: “I am amazed at how many people measure progress around mental health attitudes on how many celebrities talk about panic attacks, rather than how long people have to be treated for serious mental health issues.” I’ve been trying to write something as simple and straightforward as this for five years and now Matt does it in a sentence. Genius.
I thought about this a lot when whichever one it was of Ant and Dec had something of a meltdown and went straight into treatment. I felt, and still feel, very sorry for him, particularly as he did so under the spotlight of fame. It’s not funny for anyone to suffer from poor mental health because rich, poor and for everyone in between, it’s horrible.
Ant or Dec’s travails certainly brought forward much public sympathy, not least about how brave he was to talk about it. I recall one mental health professional express the view that Ant or Dec’s honesty would be an “inspiration” to people up and down the land who would realise that it was okay to not be okay. To which I say, nonsense.
Waiting, as I did, some 15 months for treatment on the NHS, celebrity stories did nothing to inspire me. If anything, they made me feel even worse, knowing as I did that a multimillionaire celebrity going through hard times could check her or himself into whatever treatment they required with no delay, all provided they had enough money. And taking a year or two off work would not greatly affect someone’s earnings quite as much as it would affect mine.
I’ve become a class A cynic about how the class divisions in our society have spread everywhere. And nowhere is it greater than in the field of mental health. I’ve had friends who died from mental health problems, some diagnosed, some not. It is not so much that the system failed. The system did not exist.
Does it help that Wayne Celebrity goes public with his demons? I used to think this a no brainer: of course it does. It helps him, it helps us. But what if there is nowhere for us to go? What if Wayne has the support of his profession, what if Wayne can afford the best therapy money can buy? All that’s good for Wayne and I would tell him to take whatever treatment is available. It won’t help the poor boy, though.
As reported, it took the NHS 15 months to obtain for me some mental health therapy, this after a breakdown of industrial proportions. Luckily, things never got so bad that my life was in danger, but what if it had been? The Samaritans and then sectioning, if I survived that long? No checking into rehab for me.
The truth is that regardless of wealth, our mental pain and anguish is the same. It’s how we are able to deal with the consequences that’s different.
I don’t think the anguish of Ant or Dec has changed a thing. In fact, when some people have had their lives splattered across the newspapers, as Frank Bruno did when he was sectioned, the Sun newspaper thought it all a big laugh. “Bonkers Bruno!” joked Murdoch’s organ.
Our society still revolves around the money, money, money and if you haven’t got much of it, which is a hell of a lot of people, I warn you not to get mentally ill. You can be as inspired by the demons of someone famous all you like but in Britain today, whatever some people say, it’s not okay to not be okay. I know because I have never been okay and for much of the time it would have been better to keep quiet about it.
I know that my enduring poor mental health – I am about to ‘celebrate’ 50 years of poor mental health, by the way – shaped and formed my life and not in a good way. I suspect if I had ‘come out’ as a clinical depressive’ a lot earlier, things would’ve been even worse for me. They’re not much better today.