Why am I so taciturn and tearful regarding the recent government debates on mental health and ensuing ensemble of confessional admissions by MPs, and others in the media-hungry public eye?
Am I being a churlish killjoy when I don’t feel like celebrating the proposed Employment bill, challenging discrimination from certain professions occurring on mental health grounds? Yes, it is good and welcome news, however it is what I feel that stuns me for words, not what I think.
When I hear an MP like Charles Walker claim to be a voice for those with mental health conditions, I am bewildered. I learn from BBC News that this self-elected spokesperson is personally “relieved” and “liberated” to finally disclose his condition. He also spoke about the amount of people that thanked him for “giving them a voice”. But surely he can’t elect to speak for all people with mental health conditions?
Cynically, I wonder when this particular wagon will no longer seem like such a badge wearing band for clubbers on the dark side; a reasonable ride for tourist trippers hijacking publicity for their productive, merited public and teeming careers.
When this club badge rusts or is no longer conveniently tender, they will eventually get on with other things; like living and working in the fresh air of the mainstream, with their masks screwed firmly back in place and the badges left home in a dusty drawer. Doubtless they may wear it later, or get it out for entertainment as a party, gesturing “nutter”. But it is having the choice that matters so much. An individual hurts when choice is a deprivation, not an option.
For those of us whose only career has been and is likely to always be a “case”, spun helpless around the revolving door antics of the mental health system, a parcel passed from service to service on an ever repeating round of referrals but never arrivals, all these heartfelt testimonials will inevitably have a hollow ring.
They will lack substance, despite their well-intentioned sincerity.
For many, having a mental health condition is not an occasional day trip for a dizzy emotional peak and a round of applause, but a long and lasting life sentence without reprieve. For some, it really is not a part-time, albeit somewhat disruptive, occupation.
These self-elected spokespeople with profile-spun, doctored testimonials of capability, feel able to raise controversial issues under the approving eye of their respective party. Employment rights are definitely helpful for many, but not all, at all times. This discourse of fiscal viability reduces the cornucopia of conceivable social contribution to that of having only monetary value and purpose.
Instead of politicians, or indeed, celebrities, I’d rather listen to the burnt out, displaced, system-failed man parked on a public bench mumbling to himself; internally and externally conflicted in his lost, inexpressibly savage and lonely world. Or the road wandering, unkempt lady who keeps getting “misplaced”, whilst wearing her house slippers in the snow. She has her money stolen frequently and no-one believes her. Her family really can’t cope, and social service providers really can’t provide. These maybe clichéd examples, but they are also the hidden realities of all backstreet pockets of communities.
I would rather remember these clichés of the lost through what bureaucracy has filed away under “misadventure”, than be mesmerised with admiration by any self-congratulating, prominent public figure.
These ordinary people with mental health conditions legitimately do merit full financial, moral and social support. They are still forgotten and excluded by mainstream society. These struggling people are being placed under further, inhuman pressure to become financial contributors to society whilst carrying the impossible demons that the busy mainstream exorcise.
It is uncomfortable to understate the personal suffering of any successful individual, but compared to the seriously, long-term disadvantaged, who when included are considered an ignominious number or statistical state burden, any perceived need to offer congratulations to an MP playing “look-at-me” before the rolling cameras melt into insignificance.
Having mental health issues seems like the latest celebrity survivors past-time. They can reboot flagging careers in recovery towing a new agent. Such photogenic flirtation does not run parallel to the constant trap of grinding poverty at the vilified bottom of the prejudicial social heap.
Do commended public figures witness friends cross over the street to avoid them? Strangers cross over to intercept them, cross over to ridicule, take their money, run, move in and rob them of sexual integrity? Are these socialites never afforded social credence, lied to because they’re irrelevant, have their wounds bandaged harshly and too tight because they are self-inflicted?
No flashing studio lights witness a person imprisoned against their will for the crime of feelings they can’t control, silenced by excess of medication on a dirty, neglected, locked ward instead of sent for cossetting and cooing, like a celebrity on an indulgent journey of self-discovery at the beauty parlour of rehab (again!). Having an image re-fluffed and reformed when detoxing from indulged extravagance is not comparable to most of us when we encounter mental distress and have to cope, and fail, and live with the consequences.
Celebrities and politicians have the power and means to make rehabilitation a hobby to put down when it gets boring.
Forgive me for not being impressed by this current magnanimous trend, this momentary flaunting of vulnerability exposed for public consumption while the flash of the camera gets someone’s good side, on their good day, in their mostly good, workable life.
For many people living with a mental health condition, symptoms are thankfully supressed by modern medications, but some pay a huge price by having any remaining life momentum annulled with long-term use. Their human, as well as much touted employment potential is usurped by that which they are scared to take and scared not to take.
Such entrenched stigmatised status has been used to justify forced cooperation, rape, violation of someone’s right to privacy and control. Such unyielding distress deprives people of all relationships. They lose children or end their lives as the clinicians shrug and don’t get personally involved because the going gets too tough at times.
The truth is that for most, dealing with all this formidable fallout, there will be no public applause.
Written by Kerry Barr