November 11, 2013

Recently I’ve noticed a bit of a backlash to celebrities coming out about their mental illness, the most recent being former presenter of Springwatch Bill Oddie, and his belief that celebrities don’t do a great deal of good regarding mental health awareness, stating, “I fear that it [mental health] has become something of a 'fashionable’ condition to have in this day and age.”

Um, okay.  A few things before I continue.

  1. This was not a press release, or even an in-depth interview, but appear to be off-the-cuff remarks made at a different function, so I’m very willing to give Mr Oddie the benefit of the doubt regarding any nuances that may have been left out of his statement.  

  2. If Mr. Oddie feels as though he needs to step away from mental health campaigning, all the best to him, but his individual decision should not serve as a prescription to any other celebrity.

  3. Regarding his statement:  “It is a serious condition, but, suddenly, people are making careers out of it. Stephen Fry brought a lot of attention to it, and Ruby Wax, but I don’t think that the life of a celebrity can be compared to, or relatable to, a normal, everyday life, so I don’t know how much good it really does.” – not to appear cruel, but if Mr. Oddie was trying to call out people for basing their celebrity on anything other than their talent, the 40-year+ careered Ruby Wax and national arts treasure Stephen Fry were probably the two worst examples he could have cited.  They’ve done more with their respective talents before diagnosis than most people will do in their entire careers. 

That being said, I do agree with Mr. Oddie in one regard – the life of a celebrity cannot be compared to a normal, everyday life.  For instance, today I was up at 5 am, studying for my MBA, before my son woke up and we attempted toilet training (not to get into too much detail, but you don’t want anything nice like textbooks lying around when you’re potty training).  I doubt Mr. Fry’s day went like that.  But that’s not really the point; you see…

Bipolar doesn’t care how much money Stephen Fry has in the bank.
It does not care how many accolades Ruby Wax has been given.
It does not care how quickly either of them can get a table at the Savoy. 

Bipolar only cares about the inside of their brains, as it only cares about my brain.

When I see a celebrity speak about their illnesses, it is a constant reminder to me that mental health issues are the great equalizers.  One in four of us will deal with a mental health issue in our lives, regardless of socio-economic status, education, gender, ability, or with any other qualifier we choose to define our society .  Mental health does not discriminate – you cannot buy your way out of it, or educate yourself away from it.  The more opportunities for people to see that mental health issues aren’t a poor person issue, or an un-educated person issue, or a gendered or aged issue, and are instead a legitimate, universal health issue, the quicker we can bring down the walls of ignorance and stigma. 

I was diagnosed at 28 years of age, almost 10 years ago (I suppose that makes me a mental health hipster – I was bipolar before bipolar was cool!).  I understand there will always be pushes forward, and backlashes against.  But I appreciate that if a person has the ability to speak on a national level, and educate others about an illness that I would give anything not to be ‘fashionable’ in, that they should feel free and empowered to do so.  We all have a voice in battling mental health stigma, and I am proud to add my voice to theirs. 


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