November 15, 2011

Time to Change blogger Paul BrooksWhen I was a young boy, pop star Adam Ant was one of my heroes. My dad delights in recalling how I used to jump off our sofa, emulating the highwayman’s leap onto a horse in the video for Stand and Deliver, which I loved watching on Top of the Pops.

This week, I read that former Oasis singer Liam Gallagher had called my old hero ‘nutty’. Now, I don’t know either of the men in question, but I do know that Adam Ant, who has bipolar disorder, has spoken openly about mental illness. Therefore, it might not be unreasonable to suggest Mr Gallagher’s choice of insult is, at best, in bad taste.

Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change, has rightly spoken out about Mr Gallagher’s remarks, as reported in The Guardian. Anyone, particularly someone in the public eye, deserves the utmost respect for talking about their mental health problems and helping to raise awareness of something that still carries the burdens of stigma and misunderstanding.

Reading this reminded me of lads at my school who called me a ‘failure’ because I wasn’t particularly good at sports and didn’t have a girlfriend. I could give them the benefit of the doubt and remember them as youthful scamps who meant no harm and it was all a bit of a joke. Or I could think about how it felt to be a teenage boy with low self-esteem, being repeatedly told he was a failure by boys (usually three of them together) who were more confident (at least when they were in their trio) and seemingly more popular.

When I had counselling for my depression, that phrase ‘Brook’s a failure’ was one of the first things that came to mind when I was thinking what might have caused me to have such unreasonably high standards for myself. I felt I always had to excel at everything, and nothing less than perfect was good enough. Was this subconsciously driven by an urge to prove those boys wrong? Anti-bullying Week is exploring the consequences of name-calling in the longer term. I wonder how often bullying is linked to mental illness…

Anyway – and I’m far from a failure, by the way, but if you ever meet me please remind me of that fact – what Liam Gallagher said about Adam Ant was rather like those playground taunts. I’m sure Adam Ant can stand up for himself, but I’m equally sure that the tide needs to turn against those who mock someone who has the courage to talk openly about their illness, particularly in a world where many men still think that macho posturing is what makes a chap a ‘real man’.

One way this can happen is for male role models to speak out about their experiences of mental illness, so I was delighted to see that World Cup-winning rugby star Jonny Wilkinson has done just that in his autobiography. Other sporting heroes like boxer Frank Bruno have done the same.

Both are champions in sports for ‘real men’. They’re strong. They are winners. And, more importantly for me, they have highlighted the fact that depression and other mental illnesses are indeed illnesses and can affect anyone. Having a mental illness is not a character flaw; not a weakness; not a failing; not confirmation that someone ‘can’t take it’ or ‘isn’t man enough’; and not ‘nutty’.

A man who’s prepared to admit he is mentally ill and share his experiences openly – now that’s what I call a real man.

You can read more from Paul in his blog 'Dippyman'

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