Is Increased Awareness of Mental Illness Resulting in the Trivialising of Very Real Problems?

I don't know about anyone else with enduring mental health problems, but my own have resulted in me having an excessive amount of time on my hands. As I wake relatively early, I often fill this time in the mornings watching TV, and during more recent times I seem to have developed a liking for "The Wright Stuff", Channel 5's morning talk show where various celebrity panelists discuss the day's issues alongside host Matthew Wright. At least it keeps me away from Jeremy Kyle on ITV! However, while this programme may provide a mild distraction from other more prurient fare, it does often discuss problems which I find relevant and of interest, and the other day the subject of mental health was raised.
In the first instance, a young woman rang into the programme saying that she'd read an article in the "Daily Mail" which dealt with the recent flood of accusations of sexual misconduct, which began with revelations about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. The article, though, had a less than progressive stance on the issue, its general gist being that women were perhaps being somewhat hysterical about the whole affair, and that feminism had resulted in a generation who felt that they didn't have to earn respect, but rather only that they deserved and expected it. As Wright himself pointed out, perhaps anyone does simply deserve to be respected; it is not that it has to be earned, but it can be lost or diminished. However, in her objection to the article the female caller suggested that it had even had a damaging impact on her mental health. To my mind, the thought that someone's mental health can be affected simply by reading a newspaper article which one disagrees with was taking things too far, and indeed, perhaps had the unfortunate effect of sort of proving the point of the less than understanding article: that maybe, just maybe, women were being a little overly precious about such things. Indeed, to me the woman's comments seemed to trivialise the whole issue of mental health too. By suggesting that such a seemingly harmless thing can affect one's mental state, wasn't she running the risk of belittling the very real problems of those with a genuine mental illness, and the impact it has on many lives, families and indeed wider society?
In a second instance later in the week, the panel discussed an article which I think appeared in "The Times", which relayed a story about students at Cambridge University. Apparently, a Don had told them to apply themselves to their course of study and to not drink too much as the work was very intellectually demanding. Their response was to say that this had had a detrimental impact on their mental health. Even Wright himself baulked at such a suggestion, saying that he had had a friend who had recently been sectioned and on his release had taken his own life, and that to trivialise such things by saying that one's mental health could be affected by such a seemingly innocuous event was objectionable and indeed somewhat offensive.
Indeed, has the recent rise in talking about mental illness created an environment in which the slightest event or issue can be said to impact one's psychic state? Perhaps in a very broad sense this new sensitivity is to be welcomed, as it perhaps shows a willingness to confront mental health issues and is probably reducing stigma. However, there is always going to be the more negative side, which reveals a society ready to trivialise very real and more serious problems by equating them with such apparently harmless phenomena. One can only think that such things will result in the public seeing mental illness as some kind of affectation of overly-sensitive souls. Add to that that even if people do have a real problem, the cuts to mental health services across the country have resulted in making gaining access to appropriate professional help more difficult.
In summation, I always thought that an increased awareness of mental illness should be encouraged, but it seems I was very much unaware of this awkward side-effect.                    


bazza said…
David, you do manage to consistently put your finger on the nub of a topic. This one is tough and I don't have enough insight to answer it properly so I am going to blindly respond to several points (with apologies!!)
1. Since I retired I have found myself falling, unwillingly, into the daytime TV trap. I have almost solved the problem, if it is one, by watching 90% of my TV through pre-recorded programmes. That way I don't put the TV on unless I know what I will be watching and I delete half of it without viewing it.
2. I find The Daily Mail best ignored. A female friend of mine said, at the time when Rolf Harris was first accused, "Why don't they leave an old man alone?"! I have to say that for years I was saying that Jimmy Saville was very creepy and I found him quite scary. Many friends remembered that when the truth came out; I got no joy from that, just sadness.
3. Stopping or cutting down on drinking is harmful to mental health? Have I got that right? WTF? That seems counter-intuitive (although a moderate drinker, I have never really tried stopping.)
4. Increased awareness has enabled many people, especially men to seek help. In my work I saw that increase unfold.
OK, that's enough waffling - I hope you are well.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s diverging from the standard Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Hi bazza,
Thanks for your comment. Like you, I think that increased awareness of mental illness is a good thing which, as you say, has enabled many to seek help. It was just when I heard these two little stories on "The Wright Stuff", it sparked the thought that as mental health is now so widely talked about, it could perhaps lead to people misunderstanding just how serious it can be. After all, if people now think that a newspaper article or a dressing down from a tutor can impact one's psychic wellbeing, then surely that trivialises mental ill health as a whole, and could lead to a whole new brand of stigma, where problems are dismissed as mere empty bleating.
Just to clarify, I don't think it was cutting down on drinking that the students felt would be detrimental to their mental health, but rather it was just the fact that they were told to do so!
Many Thanks, bazza, and yes, I'm not too bad at present - thank you for asking.
Best Wishes,

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