TW: This article discusses suicide, death, grief and loss
We are still in a pandemic, where the physical health of our friends, families, and loved ones is of the utmost importance. We’ve been obsessed with our health for over a year, and for some of us, that continues. However, mental health is often treated like a buzzword, where more often than not, it’s just name-dropped into the conversation. We may have broken the ice when it comes to mental health in recent years, however, it’s still deeply stigmatised and poorly misunderstood within mainstream society. Although we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, this will also be a pandemic of ill mental health. The ramifications will likely last for decades. But are we prepared to have difficult conversations?
A few weeks ago, Piers Morgan, a then broadcaster at GMB (Good Morning Britain), told his audience that he didn’t “believe a word” when the Duchess of Sussex opened up about her suicidal feelings in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. His blatant dismissal and scepticism over a young woman’s public revelations- set a dangerous precedent. For people-watching, who may already have been suffering from depression or other mental health conditions, it suggested they had to prove their ill-health to be taken seriously. Morgan had a responsibility to tackle that topic with sensitivity and understanding but more importantly, listen and remove his prejudices from the equation. In the days following, Morgan received a record number of complaints to Ofcom, which prompted the UK’s leading mental health charity, Mind to speak out.
“We’ve found when celebrities and high profile individuals speak publicly about their own mental health problems, it can help inspire others to do the same.
We recognise the importance of the Duchess of Sussex sharing her mental health experiences. Too often, feelings of shame and isolation mean people affected by mental health problems go without the help and support they need and deserve.”Mind
Mind recognised the danger of Morgan’s response and the benefit of well-known figures speaking out about their mental health. Change needs to happen about how we collectively, the media included, approach mental health. It can’t just be added in as a side note or be solely understood in terms of a select few conditions like anxiety and depression but with greater depth and understanding across the board. We all have this responsibility but the media especially as they have the power to influence our conversations.
Ten, or maybe even five years ago, it might have been unthinkable to see a public broadcaster addressing mental health on a breakfast television show. Of course, we’ve come a long way in even broaching the subject but now we’ve broken that ice; we need to go further. The conversation is still one-sided and swayed towards giving attention to anxiety and depression. Although depression is the predominant condition people suffer from worldwide, this is closely followed by anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. As we’ve seen with the comment’s from Mind, the way mental health is publically perceived has a drastic impact on people coming forward to get the help they need.
In a study by the Mental Health Foundation, it was found that nearly 9/10 people said that stigma and discrimination had a negative impact on their lives. And this is perpetuated further by the mainstream media, who either take a narrow approach to covering mental health or dismiss it altogether. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to diminish this stigma in whatever way we can. Still, the media themselves have an even bigger role to play.
As we look to come out of this pandemic, we need to give conversations about mental health more than just a second thought. This is because mental health conditions are on the rise. A survey undertaken by Mind during the first lockdown in 2020 found more than half of adults and two-thirds of young people said their mental health had gotten worse. Additionally, 68% of young people (13-24) said their mental health had gotten worse during lockdown, and 65% of adults agreed.
Granted, this is just one survey (based on the impact of one lockdown), and I’m sure there will be many to come, but it makes for alarming reading. Poor mental health is not going to go away, so it’s not the time to shut down conversations or make it difficult for people to speak up. We don’t need to add to the existing stigma but take part in a society that is just willing to listen without preconceptions. Of course, we all have an essential role in this, but the media has the most significant one. Despite ITV’s Get Britain Talking Campaign in 2020, they managed to give prominent air time to a man who believes most of us are snowflakes and that mental health is a fallacy. The media need to give air time for providing safe, public spaces where we can widen and deepen the conversation about mental health to improve our understanding.
Of course, there is so much concern in what Piers Morgan said. But there’s even more concern in what he symbolises. To me, it was striking to see a man so openly dismiss suicidal feelings when suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. Based on ONS data, men accounted for three-quarters of suicide deaths (4,303) registered in 2019, compared to 1,388 for women. Morgan’s attitude towards mental health is dismissive at worst and flippant at best. It symbolises a broader, toxic male culture. A culture where boys and men are encouraged to put on a brave face and not talk about their feelings – that stays with them for a long time and sometimes even takes their lives.
Last year, my brother, who was 24, took his own life. He was the loudest, and happiest soul at the party. In fact, his happiness and positivity for life were infectious and many of his friends can attest to that. But he didn’t speak up and get the help he needed and I only wish he had. These statistics for male suicide, as harrowing as they are, each respond to a life and impact a wider cohort of friends, family, and loved ones. When you lose someone to suicide, you’re always going to ask yourself for the rest of your life what you could have done to help. It’s a burden to live with, even after you’ve somewhat gotten over the experience of losing them prematurely.
Piers Morgan was responsible for setting an example about how we should tackle the difficult conversations around suicide and depression. Instead, he fed into this pre-existing stigma. In fact, he embodies the pandemic of male suicide we are facing. As a public broadcaster, he had an acute responsibility to address suicide with the sensitivity it deserved, not shut down the conversation. But we all share this responsibility too. Conversations regarding mental health cannot be one-sided or name-dropped carelessly into a pre-existing issue. It’s not enough to just recognise mental health and the conversation that needs to be had, but it needs to be as wide as possible to de-stigmatise conditions that don’t get the air time they deserve and come from a demographic, that is still afraid to speak up.
We all have mental health, so it is in everyone’s interest to broaden their understanding. Through being open, honest, accepting and listening, the stigma surrounding mood disorders, male depression and other issues that are often treated with judgement can hopefully be broken. Covid-19 may gradually be subsiding, but in the years that follow, it still has the capability of unleashing a pandemic of ill mental health. Broadcasters, journalists and the media have a damning responsibility to get it right due to their power to shift public conversations – but so do everyday people.
Words by Violet Daniels
Love Lifestyle? Read more here.
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.