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Stormzy Has The Right To Choose If And When He's Used As A 'Poster Boy' For Mental Health Issues

17/03/2017 10:56 GMT | Updated 17/03/2017 10:58 GMT

The NME's latest cover image, where the headline 'DEPRESSION: IT'S TIME TO TALK' is splayed across grime artist Stormzy's chest, is hard to miss. With Stormzy at the top of his game right now, and mental health such a talking point for the British public, this cover seems like a serious coup for the magazine.

That's why it's so shocking to see Stormzy, who has spoken in the past about having depression, reveal the campaigning headline was used without his consent, turning a music interview into something completely different.

A barrage of tweets from the rapper made his point clear. He said the NME had been 'begging me to be on your cover', and to 'use me as a poster boy for such a sensitive issue without permission' was 'sly' (plus some other, fruiter language, but you can use your imagination for that). He continued, 'using my face as a poster boy for it to sell your magazine is so foul and below the belt'.

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The cover in question. Credit: NME, via twitter.com/nme.

Anyone who speaks out about their own mental health issues has the right to control how and where their comments are used, just as they would with any other health condition. Having depression shouldn't define Stormzy, nor should it overshadow every interview he does. Yes, depression is a horrible, ugly, all-consuming thing, and we should all be aware of it, but sufferers aren't merely a cluster of symptoms. They're people.

Think of the risk factors from an interview: potential trolling on social media, the fallout from a quote taken out of context, the full-on hero or heroine worship that can come hand in hand with being a 'poster boy' or 'poster girl', and how heavy those expectations can weigh on someone's mind. Many depressives (myself included) struggle with perfectionism, people pleasing and high standards. We punish ourselves mentally or physically when we don't feel good enough, or generous enough, or fun enough. We don't need more ammunition.

So, if speaking to the media could trigger a further cycle of negative thoughts, why does anyone do it? Personally, I became a media volunteer for Mind in 2015 because I was sick of living with treatment-resistant depression for eight years. I felt powerless and scared as my primary and secondary care fell short of what I needed. I'd seen other people struggling, just like me, and resorting to desperate measures to survive (I know more than one family that re-mortgaged their house to pay for private treatment when NHS care wasn't available).

Like Stormzy, I wanted to show that everyone - regardless of their age, gender or background - can have mental health problems, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. I spoke to the BBC, and then Al-Jazeera, about my experience of failing mental health crisis care, to try and raise awareness of the problems in the system and in people's attitudes.

A year later, I joined a fledgling peer support group for people with mental health issues, founded by Telegraph journalist and bestselling author, Bryony Gordon, to get sufferers walking and talking in a safe space. That initial idea has become the Mental Health Mates community, with national and international support from like-minded people who just happen to have an unseen illness. Walking around a park and having a chat may not seem ground-breaking, but it's a lifeline when you're used to hiding your feelings or battling yet another baffled GP.

As Mental Health Mates has grown, we've taken part in media interviews with the likes of Glamour magazine and BBC Radio 5 Live. Bryony has also done a stellar job of talking about the group through her own journalism and through her memoir, 'Mad Girl'. However, these media opportunities are always properly agreed beforehand, and people have the right to be anonymous or not to get involved. Even the customary group photo (taken at each of our walks) only includes those who want to be in the picture.

Mental health charities work hard to support all their media volunteers and celebrity ambassadors at every stage of publicity. They know that feelings can surface just before an interview, or just after. They also know the kind of language that's helpful, and the best kind of images or footage to go with that all-important coverage. When it's properly planned, and everyone consents, a celebrity's involvement can be hugely important in getting a message across.

Stormzy's issue isn't with discussing mental health on the whole, but constructing a hard-hitting cover story on his depression without his consent. 'I've no issue with sharing my story but, with my permission', he wrote in a later tweet.

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Mental health takes centre stage. Credit: Pixabay.

The NME editor Mike Williams responded via the magazine's Twitter profile, saying 'We were inspired by your words and wanted to use them as a springboard to talk about depression and how it shouldn't be taboo.'

He continued, 'We spoke to CALM and YoungMinds in order to make sure the advice we were giving people was on message with how they advise and we spoke to other people with a profile to gather their stories and advice too. We used your image as we felt it would resonate most with our readers, and I can only apologise again that you didn't know. Our only intention was to raise awareness of an issue that we've been inspired to talk about following your comments'.

Williams also said they 'were not trying to shift copies'. The writer of the feature in question confirmed that he hadn't chosen the photos, cover imagery or headlines used in print (in publishing, these decisions are usually made higher up the chain). However well-intentioned these actions, they can't be taken back.

Had Stormzy consented to appearing on the cover of the NME to champion mental health awareness through the interview, this would have been a big success. However, it seems Stormzy's own mental wellbeing wasn't on the NME's mind when it went to print.