Why I’m (still) fundraising for Mind…

Being depressed is a fashionable thing to be.”

We have taken ‘sad’ and made it into a medical condition.”

To be diagnosed with depression is the holy grail of illnesses for many. The ultimate passport to self-obsession.

I thought it had been getting better. I thought we were getting somewhere. I hoped that mental health stigma would soon be a thing of the past. I presumed our message had got through. I believed that people were opening their minds. I honestly felt that things had changed and that we were all driving towards a deeper understanding and creating a refreshing, emphatic response towards the one 1 in 4 of us who will be affected by mental health problems.

How wrong I was…

At 10:41am on Tuesday 24th March, Germanwings Flight 4U9525 crashed into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. It quickly emerged that the tragedy was not an accident and the focus turned to the 28 year old co-pilot , Andreas Lubitz. French prosecutors reported that he had locked the pilot out of the cockpit and manually forced the plane into an accelerated descent. They also revealed that Andreas Lubitz may have had depression.

Wednesday 25th March. The headlines refer to Lubitz as “crazed” and a “madman” and asked “Why on earth was he allowed to fly?” The media always want something to blame and the second it was mentioned that poor mental health could have played a part, that was enough. Depression = mental = psycho killer; forgetting completely, or rather disregarding the fact that this wasn’t a nineties slasher film, it was real life.

Some will say that taking issue with inappropriate language or a poor choice of words is pedantic, but when the same ancient, lazy, disrespectful headlines are plastered across the top of almost every paper, it matters.

The message that came across only too clearly in the days following the Germanwings tragedy was the implication that a person with mental health problems (past or present) should not have been allowed to fly a plane – that when mental ill health is involved, murder is a risk. “Why was he allowed to work?” people asked, desperate for answers and settling for one which was overly-simplistic, and dangerous in itself.

Some important points:

Over a third of the public think people with a mental health problem are likely to be violent.

In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators, of violent crime.

  • The majority of violent crimes and homicides are committed by people who do not have mental health problems.

  • People with mental health problems are more dangerous to themselves than they are to others: 90% of people who die through suicide in the UK are experiencing mental distress.

  • In 2009, the total population in England and Wales was just over 43 million. It is estimated that about one in six of the adult population will have a significant mental health problem at any one time (more than 7 million people). Given this number and the 50–70 cases of homicide a year involving people known to have a mental health problem at the time of the murder, clearly the statistics data do not support the sensationalised media coverage about the danger that people with mental health problems present to the community.

The sad thing is that sensationalism sells.

The scary thing is that when people buy these papers, they also buy into this misconception that depression equals danger.

Since the crash, people who are not experts in mental health have been given a platform to express their opinions about the co-pilot’s actions, and of mental health sufferers as a whole. They have speculated, sensationalised and over-simplified every shred of evidence and used it to make completely misguided generalisations. One ‘celebrity’ claimed that people with depression are “attention seeking bastards, told us to “get a grip” and if suicidal, to go and kill ourselves in private (quietly).

Some people say such things to attract attention and provoke a reaction. Some people are paid for doing exactly that. People with experience of mental health problems are then left with a dilemma; do we stand up for ourselves and speak out against those who build on existing stigma, or do we keep quiet in protest and refuse to take the bait?

It would be nice if we could take the ‘ignore it and it will go away’ approach, but it doesn’t work. The majority of media outlets haven’t learnt from past mistakes and as long as there is money to be made out of controversy and sensationalism, they will continue to use mental health as a dramatic scape-goat. I used to (reluctantly) accept that ignorance and lack of education were reasons for mental health stigma, but now it’s just not valid. The information is there and there is no excuse for ignorance. People fighting mental health stigma have been doing so for years and are finally being listened to, given a platform and making real changes. It’s insulting to think that some media outlets KNOW this and IGNORE it, even when they have at times played along, pretending to be a part of that positive movement.

We need to stand up and use our voice, now more than ever.

Andreas Lubitz had torn up letters about his mental state. He had hidden his illness. We shouldn’t just be asking questions about why he was allowed to fly, we should be asking questions about why people with mental health problems feel that they have to keep it silent and cope with it in secret.

People have worked and campaigned for years to raise awareness of mental health problems and spread the word that it’s ok not to be ok – but still we are scared to talk openly because of the fear of stigma that unfortunately seems to be more evident than it has been for years.

I worry that in the wake of this disaster and the reaction to it, people will again question whether they should ask for help, whether they should tell their boss if they’re feeling low, whether they should ask their friend to pop over for a brew… I fear that the stigma that existed already could have grown after those headlines, and that in turn, so will the fear of those who need help the most. I fear more silence.

Everybody deserves to have a voice and everybody deserves to be listened to.

That’s why I’m running the Paris Marathon, Great Manchester Run and taking part in the Mind 3000s challenge for Mind Charity. We need this support now more than ever, so please donate if you can – Thank You.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/IlonaBurton 

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6 thoughts on “Why I’m (still) fundraising for Mind…

  1. Thank you, I have just been searching for info about this topic for
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  2. Thanks forr the marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it,
    you could be a great author. I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will come bacdk someday.
    I want to encourage yoou to continue your grrat work, have a nice weekend!

  3. You are so right on. Depression has been created as a label. All of these mental illnesses are labels. Labels are for objects. Human beings are not objects. The DSM-V now makes it possible to pathologize every living condition.

    Depression and addiction are related. They come from unfulfilled needs. Media sells immediate gratification. Immediate gratification is about illusions. These illusions cause frustration because there are no silver bullets. Since when is not all right to suffer a little.

    The media is the voice piece of the rich. It thrives in fear. It is fear that drives the need for control. Control through shame and fear has and will be oppressive. Until we break these boxes, we progress little.

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