This morning a friend and I were walking for coffee. Our route happens to pass the regional psychiatric intensive care unit. From outside it was possible to hear the screams of an inpatient - obviously distressed, obviously very sick.
My friend then told me about a program that recently aired on Foxtel that showcased a few celebrities talking openly about their mental illness. I should be pleased right? Well not exactly. Offering me a snippet, she told me how the loved ones of one particular celebrity explained how she was doing really well managing her bipolar disorder - she wasn't medicated and amongst other things she did a lot of yoga. Her recovery and stability were remarkable.
This annoys me because:
It seems to me that these sorts of shows do more harm than good. They perpetuate the stigma around mental illness, they don't remove it. Any viewer could be forgiven for walking away believing all that tripe.
Call me cynical but I can't help but think that a mental illness is in danger of becoming the new "black"; the moodle in the handbag; the latest designer accessory. Celebrities can have a mental illness, it doesn't require surgery or scarring, they can face some hardships under public scrutiny and then recover to the applause and new found respect of the masses. In doing so they can tick the box for "surviving adversity and coming out stronger the other side". Catherine Zeta Jones was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and by all accounts was quite poorly for a few days, recuperating in her hospital-come-spa. She's talking about it too - in a couple of glossy magazine shoots, chatting about her illness while being styled in vintage haute couture. That's definitely what having bipolar is like. I might chance it and say that lucky Catherine appears to have the lite/diet version of bipolar.
Sadly, the story has done nothing for those who are completely debilitated by bipolar.
If celebrities with mental illness do genuinely want to raise awareness and promote acceptance then it has to be done meaningfully and with a sense of humility. Stephen Fry (with the help of Robbie Williams, Carrie Fisher, Richard Dreyfuss) achieves this in the immensely clever documentary: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive.
It isn't a glossy experience and it isn't over in one weekend. Yoga is rarely the answer, medication and intensive therapeutic interventions are.
Anyone ever in any doubt should take the same route for coffee as we did this morning.
NB Extract only - full version available for purchase at any major DVD retail store.
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