My week began rather excitingly. On Sunday night, a member of the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme team contacted me. They wanted an interview live on air the next day about mental health and humour.
And so, on Monday morning, bleary eyed I awoke to the sounds of my alarm. Before 7am I was bundled off into a car to the BBC studios where I awaited my interview. It was all terribly exciting. But more importantly, my excitement was fuelled by passion. I couldn’t wait to tell the nation what I felt – that mental health was suddenly a hot topic that deserved to be discussed.
This all came about after a week and weekend of activity in mental health lobby groups regarding language and terminology used around mental health. The question has now arisen in a national consciousness: what language is acceptable and what is not?
Our Prime Minister, David Cameron, dismissed Labour's tax policy as “nuts” on the Andrew Marr show this weekend, as he insisted Ed Miliband's plans would jeopardise the economic recovery. He then revised his words and declared that he didn’t “want to get into a huge argument with the mental health lobby.”
And on Saturday, Eric Pickles was criticised for furthering mental health prejudices after he told a survivor of alleged child abuse to “adjust your medication” when she accused him of ignoring her.
This swell of interest in the phrasing and use of language linked to mental health problems has also followed the outcry regarding the Asda and Tesco “mental patient” Halloween costumes.
What was my take on this sudden interest in mental health?
And so, I sat in a quiet studio waiting for my interview on national radio, I made my considered notes to prepare for my interview. I was about to play with the grown ups. What was my take on this sudden interest and sensitivity regarding mental health matters?
Just to reassure those who might question my mental health credentials, I’ve been sectioned, I’ve been an inpatient 4 times, I have been on and off medication. I have hallucinated audibly and visually, I’ve been restrained, I’ve been given many a mental health label. But somewhere amidst that I have had to find my identity, hidden amongst all the language. Somewhere among the mental health jungle, I have found myself - because of my struggles and in spite of my struggles all at once.
My notes read as this: to me, there is a vast difference between these three separate occurrences. Two only involve language, one involves language and images. All involve motivation, stereotypes, accountability and the messages between the lines…
I happily call myself a “nutcase” – because, well, I AM! But aren’t we all? We’re all a little crazy. Some people just realize a little sooner than others that society and all who reside in it are crazy. And some of us wear our crazy little hearts on our sleeves – sometimes to the point that we are considered a danger unto ourselves or others.
I think it’s about intention, accountability and awareness
I think it’s about intention, accountability and awareness. Was Cameron’s intention to belittle those with mental health problems or to point out the irrational nature of his opponent’s policies? Was he willing to revise his words? Was he aware? Did Pickles’ intend to put down those who take medication? Was he aware of the messages he was giving about those who take medication? Was his an outdated insult? To me, those two situations differ in those three criteria: intention, accountability, awareness.
The Asda and Tesco debacle was another issue altogether. I personally found those costumes offensive. I was not only a mental patient many times and have been on psychiatric wards but even when I was sectioned I never once sported a blood-stained straight-jacket, holding a bloody meat cleaver nor rocked an orange jumpsuit. More’s the pity. On the high streets and in fashion magazines, jumpsuits have been all the rage…
Anyway, those costumes reinforced negative stereotypes of mental health sufferers who need hospitalization. It reinforced the idea that we are people to fear, people to approach with caution, to run away from.
I have fought on stage, in my writing and in my personal life for those stereotypes to be challenged. I don’t want to be feared because I have mental health problems. I want to be listened to, accepted and maybe even understood.
I want passionately for mental health to be understood
I want passionately for mental health to be understood – for sufferers to not be feared, but listened to with patience, understanding, and compassion. I want people to see me for me…and then to see that I also happen to be a person with mental health problems.
It is only with bravery and being happily outspoken that we will change views and break the stigma.
There is a danger we might venture into making mental health a taboo subject if we are oversensitive to language. But the outcry, the sensitivity, the passion is heralding the start of a desperately needed dialogue – what do we as a wider society believe is acceptable terminology regarding mental health matters?
This is an exciting time. In the 1980s and 1990s we re-evaluated and reconsidered the humour, comedy, jokes, terminology and language we used about race and gender. It welcomed in a new era of sensitivity, consideration and awareness of those subjects. Why not take the same care and consideration regarding mental health matters.
There is something to be said for reclaiming words. I am a nutcase. I am a total nutcase. But by being nuts, I accept myself. I think most of us are nuts – but we are all on a sliding scale of how aware we are of that we are.
I went on air for my interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme
Bright and early, coffee-fuelled and caffeined-up, I went on air for my interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. I only spoke for 2 minutes. But those 120 seconds seemed to strike a chord with a lot of people.
And so, the dialogue continues. I just hope the passion remains. This continues to be an exciting time for our mental health awareness movement.
What do you think about the issues raised in this blog?
Find out more about her show "When I grow up". Juliette will be touring the show in the UK and worldwide in 2014.