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Mental Illness and Stigma - Interpretations of a Recent TV Advert

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The other day, I was discussing the new TV advert by MIND / Rethink, called "It's time to talk. It's time to change", with my colleagues at the psychiatric inpatient unit where I work. You know the one - where Dave (from accounts) has come back to work after some time off with a mental illness, and his colleague is contemplating whether or not to ask him how he has been.

It really seems to polarise opinions amongst the folk at my work. Many thought it was funny and interesting, but a couple of people felt it was demeaning to people with mental health issues, by portraying Dave (from accounts) as unpredictable, chaotic, impulsive and... well, a bit nuts, really (sorry for the psychiatric jargon). I respectfully disagreed, because my interpretation (the advert is ambiguous, perhaps intentionally) was that the bizarre behaviour (e.g. crawling into a photocopier, turning into dust, and guzzling down a model building) was the other person's imaginary fear of how the conversation could go. Also, I pointed out that at the very least, it has people talking about the advert, and by proxy thinking about mental illness.

I'd be interested to know what you Huffington Post UK readers think, and would be much obliged if you could enlighten me.

One of my colleagues made a comparison to the Vinnie Jones recent resus advert, noting that this also tackles a grave medical situation (near death), which is no laughing matter, in a... well, laughing matter. I pointed out that there was a pertinent difference - unconscious people who are in immediate need of life-saving treatment are not stigmatised like some psychiatric patients. They are not vilified and unfairly judged by many or arbitrarily presumed to be violent.

Hell, nowadays, even Vinnie Jones isn't vilified and unfairly judged by many or arbitrarily presumed to be violent.

Of course, Jones himself promulgated his battle with depression, in a recent BBC documentary - a laudable, brave and progressive step.

I do not have the temerity to attempt to deconstruct the intricate and multiple reasons for such stigma in a blog. But I would say that ignorance is a salient factor. Whoever said it was bliss clearly doesn't sympathise with victims of such backward, archaic, hillbilly thinking. The media hasn't helped, with depictions of the mentally ill, as demonstrated by the unfounded language frequently found in newspaper articles, especially in tabloids. You only have to look back at the Sun's egregious gaff - the headline "Bonkers Bruno locked up", for an example. I wonder how the authors of these types of articles would react to equivalent epithets when being described themselves; such as "sensationalist, greedy, oafish tabloid journalist" or "insensitive, callous, attention-seeking, horrible, immoral reporter."
Too much? Sorry.

"Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all" - Bill Clinton

The very same day of the discussion about the TV advert, I reviewed an outpatient who had recently been discharged after a long stay in our secure Forensic Unit. He was telling me his woeful experience of returning back home, and trying to reintegrate himself against all the prejudice and stigma he had to face.

Although very psychiatrically unwell at the time of his index offence (he assaulted a stranger, while suffering from paranoid delusions), he had since turned his life around. It took medication, psychology sessions and a lot of therapy, but most of all it took motivation, effort and dedication on his part. He is able to look after his day-to-day living, and elude the temptation of drugs and the company of old, nefarious associates. He exercises every day, is actively interacted with his community, and is trying to look for work.

Now, either I am watching too much Jeremy Kyle, or there is actually a significant proportion of our society, for whom the same cannot be said. But because of this invisible, yet heavy label hanging around his neck, he has felt stigmatisation all around him. When it came to looking for a job, speaking to old friends from his neighbourhood, and even spending time with his family, he sensed their fears and insecurities behind the looks they gave him, and hidden within the words they spoke.

I've been around many people with mental illnesses in my career. Some can be challenging and difficult, but the majority are friendly, pleasant and thoughtful. I've also been around many more people without mental illnesses in my life. It is the same.

I've been able to draw my own conclusions from my experiences, but struggled to construe how some people can be so judgemental and narrow-minded. More than a quarter of the population suffers from a mental disorder at one time in their life. And very, very few of those people crawl into photocopiers, turn into dust, or guzzle down model buildings. This means that the only way someone can realistically reach the corollary of mental illness always equating to unpredictable bizarre behaviour, is if they locked themselves in a cave, and barely interacted with anybody at all.

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