Last night there was a documentary on Channel 5 called Me and My Mental Illness.
It featured well-known folk like Alastair Campbell and Frank Bruno, who have spoken out in the past about their battles with depression and bipolar disorder respectively, and also everyday people who have a mental health problem of some kind.
The programme’s aim was to de-stigmatise, educate and increase our understanding of what it’s like to have a mental health problem, how people live with it, and how those who live with them can help.
I am SO glad they made it, because destigmatisation and education about mental health is really needed.
It's also exactly the reason I'm setting up Headcase. More on which later…
Here’s 'That Statistic We All Know And Ignore':
1 in 4 of us will have a mental health problem at some point in our lives.
ONE IN FOUR OF US.
And that’s not counting all the rest, who never come forward and talk about it.
And believe it or not, we are not all mad.
We are not weak, pathetic, feeble, needy or weird.
We are just people who have the mental equivalent of a broken leg, cancer, or asthma.
You just can’t see it.
Despite the omnipresence of all this Head Stuff, shocking numbers of people still treat mental illness like some kind of epic crapness, and think those who suffer from it should flippin’ well learn to deal with, and sort their shit out.
Or, they have no idea what it’s all about - or don’t want to know - so they bury their ignorant heads in the sand.
Like the compassionate heroes they are.
Far too often people treat those with mental health problems rather like hitting someone with a broken spine right across their back with an iron bar.
And then getting annoyed with them when they cry out in pain.
It happens day in, day out - and to me it happened this morning - and represents everything that’s wrong with our understanding - or rather gobsmacking lack of it - of mental health issues.
Here’s a little bit of background. Last year I had a complete nervous breakdown after a long period of psychological stress and exhaustion.
If you’ve never had a breakdown you can’t begin to comprehend the extent of what this means. If you have, you need no explanation.
I just wish I could give you a hug right now.
I won’t go into the detail here, as that’s for an article next week.
But let’s just say that if you have any kind of serious mental health issue, whether it’s anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, a tendency to self harm (I seem to have had almost all of these. #winner!) and so on, you are ill.
Not weak, wingeing, and needing to bloody well pull your socks up and start dealing with life better.
You. Are. Not. Well.
Thus, mental unwellness needs to be treated exactly the same as physical unwellness. Not like some kind of inconvenience or megawhinge.
Put it this way;
If you had a broken ankle, nobody would tell you to run a marathon. Go on, luv, it’ll probably make it feel better!
If you had pneumonia nobody would ask you to climb Everest, wearing nothing but a string vest and a defiant air of Fuck You, Pneumonia.
You’d be given antibiotics and told to stay in bed.
People would feel sorry for you, make you soup and bring you box sets of The Good Wife.
But if you have chronic anxiety, or are so depressed you can’t get out of bed, the likelihood is that you’ll either be ignored, or told it’ll all get better soon, or encouraged to just…deal with it.
This, my friends, is because of two things;
1. You can’t SEE mental illness. So it’s very easy to ignore, forget about, or assume it can’t be that bad, can it? (Yes, trust me, it can.)
2. Because we can’t see it, and we understand so little about it, we fear it.
Saying you have tendonitis or a dodgy heart illicits sympathy and care. Saying you are bipolar or that you’re so scared of the sky you sometimes can’t go outside, illicits mass running for the hills.
So here I am, recovering from a breakdown.
I'm now taking medication to stabilise my moods, and I'm going about my job, working hard to set up Headcase, doing all my TV and radio work, looking after my kids and so on.
But inside, I'm still a car-crash survivor. My bones are still smashed up, and if you push them, they will break again. It’s a much slower process than I thought, and the occasional set-backs really frustrate me.
I want to run! But sometimes I can’t quite walk.
And so sometimes, I can't quite handle things with as much strength as I might if I were fully well.
This is why, when I received an email this morning from someone who knows me very well and knows I nearly died this year, telling me it was good to see a new video on my Headcase Kickstarter page because the old one was so awful it was almost impossible to watch for more than 4 seconds, I got a tad* upset.
*extremely very totally dangerously.
Now, I can take criticism. Jesus, I work in the media – criticism, often incredibly cruel and upsetting, is part of the job. I was trolled on Twitter only last week for looking so old I needed Botox, and by another lovely person who asked where, 'wonder person in your wonderful life', my children were, while I had the audacity to be at work.
These things are part and parcel of the job, unfortunately, delivered by petty, bored people hiding behind the shelter of a laptop screen, venting their own sadness by hurting others. But I don’t mind it. I actually feel quite sorry for them, in general.
And I excuse it, because for the most part they don’t know how ill I have been, and still am.
They don’t know that they are doing the equivalent of giving a heart attack patient 400 double espressos with a side order of speed.
But when it’s people who KNOW you are ill and yet still think you can deal with life like someone who isn’t, that the utter disbelief at people’s lack of understanding of mental illness comes in.
If someone had cancer and was in remission, in constant pain, struggling to stay alive, but was trying as hard as they could to pay the bills and look after their family, I’m pretty damned sure you wouldn’t say,
Wow, thank GOD you've got a new wig because, frankly sweetheart, that last one was so dreadful I couldn’t look at it; you looked like a horror show! - knowing this person has been out wearing it in public for weeks.
This kind of head-spinning lack of understanding of an outwardly coping but inwardly wrecked person, is half the reason why I’m setting up Headcase.
To educate, and increase the understanding of all kinds of mental unwellness, and how the sufferer feels.
The other reason is to give those who have a mental health issue the belief and confidence that they CAN speak out about it, and they don’t need to be ashamed, afraid or stigmatised.
This, in fact, is what I’ve learned most about it all, in the months I’ve been talking with people about it – that as soon as they can TALK about it, or read about other people having the same thing and thus know they are not alone, they feel better.
By sharing blogs, podcasts, features and interviews with hundreds of everyday, normal, functioning people who live with a mental health problem, on a website that is beautiful, outspoken, bang on trend, and yes, even funny, I hope to totally change the face of mental health, and make thousands of lives better.
And I won’t stop banging on and on about it until there isn’t a single person out there who still feels shit or scared for having a mental health problem, or one person who doesn’t understand how to behave towards someone who has one.
I want to see Headcase logos on bags and laptops, bikes and T-shirts. I want people to wear it with pride, and say
‘YES, guess what, I sometimes don’t feel all that great in my head – but I least I have the guts to admit it, and be dealing with it. And I’m OK with that.’
It’s not embarrassing or shameful. It’s BRAVE and empowering.
I have an article coming out in Grazia magazine next Tuesday (8th November), which describes my mental breakdown in much more detail, and explains what can happen when a mind is put under so much stress it cracks.
I really recommend you read it.
(I don’t get anything extra if you do, btw! It’s just that I think it might be a useful read, and do some good.)
In the mean time, if you care about mental health and would like to be a kick-ass ambassador for blitzing the face of it and making a huge difference to thousands of people’s lives, I would be suuuuuuper delighted if you would come on board and support Headcase.
And let’s not stop at the 100% target. HELLSYEAHBABY, let’s take it higher and higher, to 200, 400, 1000%. Because the more we raise, the more good we can do, and the fewer people out there will feel scared, pathetic and like a failure, and be unintentionally unkindly treated by those who don’t understand what they are going through.
Thank you. LET’S DO THIS THING.