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Picture a scene: A 90-degree turn around a tall gray wall opens out to a spanning vista of the Irish Sea overlooking the lighthouse at Rockabill.
The sun is starting to rise over beyond the lighthouse as you and the other early-risers pound the footpath to the finish line. Once over the line it’s time for the obligatory selfies, Facebook updates, Instagram poses, quick Snap to your lazy and less socially conscious followers and of course the essential tweet with the hashtag #darknessintolight.
Now picture another scene, essential for this is a face of pristine make-up, a new pair of trainers and designer yoga pants. Whilst capturing your workout routine it is necessary to use slow-motion shots just to capture your perfect posture as you deadlift your way to happiness.
From a pond shore an onlooker watches a swan glide effortlessly against a gentle current, blind to the frantic paddling taking place underneath, and thinks that actually looks like fun. Similarly an oblivious on-looker watches his/her friends rising early for Darkness Into Light or watches his/her celebrity idol talk about their anxiety through the guise of an extended advertising campaign for a sports clothing company and thinks “that mental illness thing doesn’t look so bad”.
But what about the individual struggling with their mental health who decides to tune in, hoping to connect with this celebrity, to maybe feel a sense of empathy with her and see that it is possible to get through or maybe live with this illness? Yet again she or he is hit with the same bullshit idyllic Instagram scene she’s been told to discount. Her mental illness doesn’t feel anything nearly as glamorous as figure hugging gym gear or designer clothes — go relate to that!
I’m told there was a time in Ireland when there existed a stigma around cancer and thankfully that’s been dismantled. Similarly it is great that the taboo around mental health is starting to lift but we need to be careful. In trying to create openness it’s important not to glamorise mental illness, because if these people are really honest it is not glamorous in the slightest. In creating openness be careful not to normalise the dangerous outcomes of mental illness or to further alienate those suffering who can’t relate to this glamorous image created.
As you may have guessed (from my cynicism), I have first-hand experience and recall on one occasion telling a psychiatrist that I felt pretty shit about being diagnosed with a psychiatric condition. Her response to try ease the discomfort was to tell me that it’s almost fashionable now to be diagnosed with some class of mental illness, that teenage girls now want to have a diagnoses just like their celebrity idol. I smiled politely and thought, “are you for fucking real?”.
It’s fashionable to have a mental illness. I don’t ever recall it being fashionable to have cancer yet I don’t negatively judge anyone who has.
So what is the point of this rant? I suppose a word of warning to policy makers and those looking to do genuine good work in lifting the stigma. Be careful not to glamorise it or use it as a means of self-promotion. Equally though its a message to those really in a dark place who can’t relate to the idyllic image of mental illness that has been created in some places. Don’t worry, mental illness is not supposed to be as Instagram filtered good as it looks but genuine help can be found.
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