The recent revelations surrounding the suicide attempts of Stephen Fry and Paris Jackson have once again raised the issue of mental health in the public spotlight. However, in the case of the young Jackson, rather than the even-handed approach that would have been dealt out to any normal 15 year-old, coming to terms with the untimely death of their father, it was, with a crushing inevitability, splashed across the front of every tabloid. The headlines positively dripped with glee that, even though the main source had perished, the Jackson family show rolled on, just when it seemed the children may end it with their party-pooping normality.
I then read with abject horror, as Fry revealed on Twitter that he had been doorstepped by a journalist, the day after revealing on a radio show of his own attempt to take his life in 2012.
Fry’s long battle with depression is well documented, and whilst it is not entirely un-newsworthy that one of Britain’s most loved entertainers had attempted to end their life, where is the line? Is it acceptable to seek someone out, and then aggressively question them in the street about the most personal of matters. More importantly? What does that say about our continuing attitude to mental health in this country?
The suicide of Gary Speed, the Wales football manager, hit me hard on the day it was announced. He wasn’t my favourite footballer of all time. I wasn’t a die-hard Bolton, Newcastle or Leeds fan. In fact, he was merely a promising football manager to me, who was starting to turn around the incredibly poor fortunes of his national team.
What resonated was the fact he had seemed so happy and normal, with a life to behold from the outside looking in, complete with a Wife and family. Everybody in football who spoke of him, had never known he had any problems that would indicate he would ever take such action.
You see that was me. For a long period of my life, from my teens to my mid-twenties, I was outwardly happy and inwardly being crushed by bouts of depression. Rather foolishly, like Speed, I rarely opened up to anyone about it, and if I did, just brushed it off the next day, almost out of some kind of mis-guided shame. I’m much happier now, heavily due to my life with my fiancee and those I care about around me, but if I wasn’t, would I open up about it? I doubt it.
For me, mental health is just that. The brain is an organ that operates vast functions, beyond the compare of any in our body. One of those is the well-being of our inner consciousness, and sometimes that can go wrong – the organ is not as healthy as it might be. Sometimes for a short period of time, sometimes for a whole life or as in my case, it was on and off for several years.
So why not mention it? Why suffer for such an long time, in relative solitude? If the illness is surely one of genetics, being that the mind is not firing quite right beyond my own control, why shield it from view? If anything else in your body stops working correctly beyond your control, should you really feel ashamed? Would a Paralympian be ashamed that their limb did not work to it’s full capacity? If asked about it, why should I want to talk about something else?
Yet millions of other people in the world feel the need to suffer alone, without the help needed for their mind, and that quite often is down to society’s attitude to mental health. It’s relatively easy to sit and type these things from the comfort blanket of a keyboard, but I couldn’t verbalise them. The vast majority of that comes from that British embarrassment in admitting that you can’t or couldn’t cope with things but also, if you do open up, what would people think? How many of us have dismissed someone with depression, or given them a wide berth because they are “mental?”
That sometimes extends from fear of the different, but also people have the natural cynicism that the person is making it up “for attention”, but what if the person wants that attention to just be able to open up?
Undoubtedly many people reading this piece will have pointed and sniggered at high profile people such as Kerry Katona, Paul Gascoigne and Britney Spears, as they suffered various mental health issues in the spotlight, but would we react the same if that was our father or sister? Of course we wouldn’t.
The same can be said towards the public attitude to anyone suffering dementia. How often have you avoided or got annoyed at a confused old man, when if it was your grandfather or father, you would help him find his way home or what he needed in the shop?
So, the sufferer puts up the public show that all is fine, when internally it couldn’t be further from the truth. I was always the life and soul of a party, burying myself in drink before going home to face the fact that the drinking had only made matters worse. Sometimes, I would drink too much and the act would drop, then the next day it would be forgotten or pinned on too many ales. All once again, down to that shame attached.
So there needs to be huge work in our society to remove the stigma attached to this. I feel uncomfortable typing this right now, I will do even more so when it posted. There pulse is a little faster and the breathing a little shorter, yet all I am doing is talking about a part of my life that is now (thankfully) over.
There is so much work going on for sections of our society such as those who are disabled, or suffering from cancer, or any other health issue, to shout out and not be ashamed of what they are going through, but there is still so far to go with regards to mental health.
Yes, Stephen Fry and Paris Jackson should be afforded the privacy to deal with their own issues in their own time and with the people they wish too, but should they feel the need to hide from prying eyes what they chose to do in attempting suicide? No, because once in a while someone will check in that they are okay, and lend them an ear to talk things through.
The most foolish of things to do is to lock it all away and suffer it alone. Society needs to be in a position to allow and encourage them, and others, to open up about what is going on inside their heads, when they feel comfortable to.
Splashing it across a front page and treating it as something alien, will only cause that teenager at home going through the same thing, to clam up and put on the old, familiar show.
It’s not that alien, it’s incredibly human, and it’s going on in so many places you wouldn’t think.
Paul Featherstone is 31 years old and lives in Hull. Most people call him “Fev.” He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of football and music and uses the word “c*nt” far too much in everyday conversation. He spends a lot of his time blagging his way into celebrity parties. He is to be commended for once meeting Jo Whiley and refraining from beating her to death with a big stick. You can read more of his vitirolic comments on http://twitter.com/FevTheRevoff