At the end of last year, Mind reported the greatest improvement in public attitudes towards mental health in over 20 years. The recent portrayal of Germanwings’ co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz’s mental health has made me seriously question whether in reality this is two steps back in the progress towards de-stigmatising mental health.
The front pages of the Daily Mail and The Sun among others were absolutely despicable (as above). I took to twitter to share my horror and was encouraged by the various digital ‘nods’ of agreement I received in response. If only this was the end of the story; unfortunately, the wider twitter response was that of the press, “Why was the pilot allowed to fly?” and even worse, “no depressive pilot should ever be allowed to work”… I mean, come on – is this the resounding sound of the positive shift in altered attitudes? I think not.
We all know that there’s a great deal of work left to do to reduce stigma surrounding mental ill-health, but I really can’t abide by sweeping statements based on a total lack of understanding and education. 1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental health problem at some stage of our lives and 20% will suffer with depression specifically – that’s not a small number of people! To those saying that they wouldn’t want to get on a flight with a depressive pilot, I pose these questions; What about your bus driver suffering with depression. or the nurse treating your loved ones who has taken anti-depressants for over ten years? We go through our existence, entrusting our lives within the hands of those suffering with mental health issues and are usually none the wiser. Where do you draw the line?
Whist depression is a horrible illness, which in some cases can be potentially life-threatening, the lives it threatens tend to be those suffering.
The bigger picture for me is clear, we should be creating an environment in which people feel safe and supported to disclose their ongoing struggles with mental health. The screaming and shouting we’re seeing in the press and on social media will actually lead to fewer people stepping forward and sharing, which is in no way positive. The media have a social responsibility that is readily ignored and this is hugely damaging.
The silver lining here that shouldn’t be overlooked is the volume of people that have stood up against the headlines. I would guess that should this have happened twenty/thirty years ago, this would have met very little resistance.
Visit Time To Change is you’d like to find out about ways you can help reduce stigma.
1. “I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.”
2. “Life’s not about feeling better, it’s about getting the job done.”
3. “I’m smart, but not enough – just smart enough to have problems.“
4. “I’m done with those; regrets are an excuse for people who have failed.”
5. “Life can’t be cured, it can be managed”
6. “See, when you mess something up, you learn for the next time. It’s when people compliment you that you’re in trouble. That means they expect you to keep it up.”
7. “Things to do today: Breathe in. Breathe out.”
8. “People are so screwed up in this world. I’d rather be with someone screwed up and open about it than somebody perfect and ready to explode.”
9. “I can’t eat and I can’t sleep. I’m not doing well in terms of being a functional human, you know.”
10. “Dreams are only dreams until you wake up and make them real.”
All quotations taken from Ned Vizzini’s novel, ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’
This has been on my reading list for a while now and I’m annoyed that I put off this for so long. Quite simply put, whether you have a personal experience of mental illness or not, you really need to read this book! ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ sees Ned Vizzini tackling the difficult themes of teenage depression and anxiety with an authenticity that is rarely prominent in other novels about mental illness.
Vizzini has written a coming of age story following Brooklyn based teenager, Craig Gilner. We follow Craig as he struggles to cope with peer pressure, concerns about his future and mounting expectation at school. As though this isn’t enough for a teenager to bear, Craig also has to deal with a depression that stops him eating and sleeping. When he reaches breaking point and contemplates suicide, he admits himself to Six North, the psychiatric ward at his local hospital.
‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ genuinely is a funny story; emotionally I was invested in Craig’s journey from the first few paragraphs, yet at times, I found myself conflicted between laughing at his cynical humour and wanting to cry over the description of his struggle.
I have written, read and rewritten this post countless times and each time, I’m still not convinced I’m doing this book enough justice… seriously, it’s that good! Vizzini successfully conveys the complexities of not just depression, but self harm, schizophrenia and so many mental illnesses through the characters Craig meets whilst at Six North. The relationships he develops with Noelle and Muqtada in particular, resonated with me on a level I didn’t expect.
Ned Vizzini was very open that his own stay in a psychiatric hospital was inspiration for this book, before taking his own life at the age of 32. I hope there is some solace for his family in knowing how many people will undoubtedly benefit from such a personal and honest story about depression.