“For some of us, it might not always feel like there’s someone to talk to, but that doesn’t mean you’re alone in this.” These are the words prominently featuring on the ITV website and at the core of their much needed and successful Britain Get Talking campaign, a message undermined by the actions of Piers Morgan this week, actions which have rightly been condemned. They are words, contextually, which remind us that this is a time to take humanity over misogyny, to take kindness over hatred, to listen not judge.
Britain Get Talking
We often see the statistic that 1 in 4 will experience a mental illness in any given year, but the number of people who hit a brick wall when it comes to being vulnerable or asking for help is much greater than that.
That, for me, was the driver when agreeing to be part of the Britain Get Talking campaign back in Autumn 2020. At the time, the focus was on raising money to support the work of the mental health helplines operated by ITV’s partner charities on the campaign. Those helplines are a lifeline to the thousands of people who reach out to them every day because they have encountered a mental health challenge or crisis and have had the bravery to ask for help. And many of you will have no idea quite how brave that is.
I’ve long said that asking for help is the bravest thing that anyone can do. To be vulnerable, especially when this relates to our mental wellbeing, is terrifying. I know this only too well from my own journey, defined by fifteen years of illness and three suicide attempts before I sought help.
We often have a desire to be in control and when this is taken from us, our typical response is fight or flight, which is captured very well in this article from North West Boroughs NHS Foundation Trust.
In short, when it comes to mental wellbeing, we will often either fight or take flight. We can deny it (flight – there’s nothing wrong) or we try and prove quite how ‘fine’ we are (fight – look at me, I’m great). All this time, all we are crying out for is to just stop and say, ‘help me, I can’t do this alone’.
Brene Brown did a highly regarded and prolifically referenced TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability which I would recommend to anyone. It’s a game changer in the way we view the necessity to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering “You’re not good enough” in our ear, it’s tough to show up.Brene Brown – The Power of Vulnerability
Equally importantly, Brown follows this up with a wonderful interweaving of courage and trust. She speaks about having the courage to trust others and the integrity to be worthy of trust from others.
Worthiness is a word we do not reference often enough which makes no sense given the impact of mental illness on someone’s self-worth. Suicide is the result of someone no longer being able to place any value or worth on their life. Asking for help, no matter how desperate someone is feeling, offers hope that there remains a life worth living.
All of this brings me to the events of this week…
Answering the questions that matter
- Am I a fan of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex? Actually, it’s irrelevant whether I am or not.
- Do I believe that the Duchess may or may not have experienced mental health issues living in the incredible goldfish bowl surrounded by the predators of the global media? Again, it’s irrelevant what I think, because her feelings are much more important and valid than what I think of them. I would say, however, that living in that environment would impact most of us.
- Am I a fan of Piers Morgan? Oddly enough, I’ve met him more than once and he comes across very differently from the arrogant misogynist that we see on our screens. For what it’s worth, I find his approach to ‘journalism’ to be odious at best BUT, again, it’s irrelevant what I think.
- Did the Palace deny Megan support when she felt suicidal? We will likely never know which makes it irrelevant for the purpose of this post.
So what is relevant?
We have spent years trying to change perceptions around mental health. Thousands of lives have been lost to mental illness so many of which could have been avoided. We have campaigned, we’ve been vulnerable, we’ve challenged archaic prejudices and stigma to change the language used towards mental health. In short, so many have given so much to transform how we view and talk about mental health and illness. That is relevant.
Piers Morgan has no right, whatsoever, to question anyone who says they are experiencing, or have experienced mental ill-health and suicidal thoughts. He can, by all means, question the motivations of the Sussex’s to have that interview, he can perhaps even question the assertion that the Palace denied the Duchess the right level of support. However, he has no right to question the integrity of someone who says they felt suicidal. That is relevant.
Let’s go back to the start of this post and helping our helplines. Could you imagine if the helplines turned around to someone who said they were suicidal and said “I don’t believe you, I’m going onto my next call.” That is relevant. Nobody can deny another human being the right to be vulnerable and courageous which is exactly what the Duchess of Sussex was when speaking about feeling suicidal.
The thing is this; I speak from personal experience. Perhaps nobody quite said the words “you’re a liar and I don’t believe you” but doctors, teachers and friends all told me that there was likely nothing wrong with me, not to worry. They weren’t quite as blunt as Mr Morgan, but essentially they did tell me that they didn’t believe me. When I self-harmed they still didn’t believe me, and only after three suicide attempts and me despairingly putting up my hand and asking for help did someone finally listen. That is relevant.
Crossing boundaries into race
They say that mental ill-health doesn’t discriminate. Now that is a statement which should be treated with absolute care. I grasp that it is well intentioned and I totally get that anyone, regardless of race or gender, of social class, can experience mental illness at any time. But there is a very big BUT!
Socio-economics plays a huge part in the stress, anxiety, deprivation, isolation and prejudices which lead to clinical mental illness. The independent 2018 review of the Mental Health Act reveals startling racial discrimination, something I experienced myself within the legal system, at a time when I was on probation for an offence related to my mental illness and had just received my diagnosis. That is relevant.
And why is all of the above relevant? Very simply, when a misogynistic white male sits there and tells a mixed-race woman that he doesn’t believe she felt suicidal, it has the potential to dismantle everything that we have done to break down stigma in all communities and to encourage people to speak openly about their mental health.
It is a white man telling a woman of colour that she’s a liar, and it is someone pouring scorn on the mental wellbeing and suffering of another human being. Morgan insults not just the Duchess of Sussex, but anyone who has lived through the pain of mental illness.
Piers Morgan cannot, in himself, dismantle the progress we have made in challenging the misconceptions around mental health. His words and attitude are immensely damaging, insulting and, frankly, putrid, but they also bring opportunity.
Societally, we do not feel comfortable talking about race, nor do we feel comfortable talking about mental health. That’s too bad, the touchpaper has been lit and there is no turning back. We need to address the inequalities in both and doing that, in itself, will challenge the dangerously comfortable relationship and correlation between race and mental ill-health.
Piers Morgan no longer has his job, largely due to his abysmal choice of words. Sadly I doubt he will be out of the limelight for long as modern culture reveres a shock-jockey every bit as much as it reviles the same.
Either way, we can only hope that history may eventually tell us that those very words were a catalyst for positive change.
Footnote – me and ITV
Having been part of the Britain Get Talking, I was naturally reflective when I was aware of Piers Morgan’s actions. I absolutely applaud the bravery of Alex Beresford for calling it out in such an eloquent manner. I also applaud the swift actions of ITV and Dame McCall in their response, and continue to fully support ITV and the campaign.