Sunday, 21 December 2014

Lets all just take a moment

I have three or four blogs that I'd like to get out before Christmas but this one has taken precedence so please bear with me.

Yesterday I saw a story about one Lynn Cassidy, you may have seen the story. You may have scoffed at the story. I admit, upon reading the headline "Mum becomes suicidal before Christmas every year because she can't accept Santa isn't real" my first thought was "say what?" Then I read the story. Of course, this story was reported in The Mirror. I find The Mirror and other tabloid newspapers are terrible sources of news. Their manner of reporting news stories is quite irresponsible, especially in relation to mental health. Granted, there are worse news outlets, The Sun for instance or The Daily Mail.  I tend to avoid newspapers altogether. I do have The Metro on my iPad to while away my commute to work but more often than not I will read a book. (Most recently, I read Andy Behrman's Electroboy).

Today I saw the story floating around again on my Facebook news feed and I - stupidly - decided to read some of the comments. I'd heard that 2014 has been the year of the beginning of the end of mental health stigma and I found myself wondering if this is truly the case.

From personal experience, I have found that stigmatisation is still as rife as ever but now it's being deemed inappropriate to make remarks about "crazy nutters". Much like the condemning of black people becoming "not ok" and more recently homosexuals. Of couse, I'm using broad strokes here and I'm aware there is more to it but that would take up too much of your time dear reader and with Christmas around the corner there's precious little of that!

As I often do, I digress! What troubled me the most about this story was not the suffering experienced by Ms Cassidy, although I do feel some sort of kinship with her, it was the responses of other individuals who clearly have no idea what it's like to suffer the turmoil of mental distress. One such individual commented "I say let her kill herself". I wish I was kidding... Said individual then went on to state "I feel for the person who has to counsel her... This is exactly what is wrong with the west... This lady got paid for her story. I bet she uses this as an excuse for benefits and sympathy."  Now, nowhere in the article does it state that Lynn does, in fact, claim benefits for her issues.  This is classic "tarring with the same brush" mentality.

The same article in the Express elicited comments such as "Have no time for nuts like her." and "arent there places called asylums that this lady could be housed in?" and even "how totally and utterly pathetic this dumb woman is,how on earth does the idiot cope with real life,i dispear [sic]  at humanity." This last comment is one of the reasons I myself despair of humanity. An individual's poor grasp of the English language and the fact that they have attempted to rationalise this woman's behaviour by calling her "utterly pathetic" is the reason I decided to write this blog. 

Yes, I decided to read the article and then the comments so the onus for my current feelings is entirely on me. I have become enraged by the response to Lynn's very obviously troubled mind, again, I accept responsibility entirely for my feelings as no one forced me to read the article. My point here is simply this;  had Lynn come forward and mentioned her distress at Christmas for a different reason, would people react the same? If she was troubled by cancer in her finger, would you lambast her for her woes because it's not, say, pancreatic cancer? No you wouldn't. Cancer is cancer no matter how big or small and mental distress is no different in this respect. You don't have to have suffered some great tragic event in your life to experience mental distress. The tiniest thing can trigger an already fragile mind. My reckoning is that Lynn Cassidy has other issues that she is either unaware of that contribute to her feeling of depression at this difficult time of year or that The Mirror edited her interview to cause a stir. I don't know. I'd love the opportunity to discuss this matter with Lynn herself and take down her exact story but I fear such a thing might not be possible. (Lynn, if you do happen to read my piece, please do contact me directly). 

Let's take a little look at this thing in broader terms; Lynn's distress appears to have been triggered by the discovery that Santa is not real. She made this discovery at the tender age of 10 when she received a second hand bicycle. Based on what is written in the article, the biggest fault here is with her parents. Lynn says of her parents response to her discovery; "They didn't even really have to answer, they just looked at me in a way that said it all. From there my world came crashing down." Why had her parents not addressed this issue for her? At 10 years old I imagine it must be incredibly earth shattering to discover that Santa isn't real. I can't say for certain from personal experience as I'm not entirely sure I ever really believed myself. I don't remember. At 10 years of age, we are not equipped with the tools necessary to deal with this type of trauma (because, let's face it, it is a trauma!). As we get older, we learn the tools necessary to deal with traumatic events for the most part. This is not canon of course. Sometimes we experience things that we simply cannot deal with and we cease to function at a "normal" rate.  The thing that I'm finding equally, if not more troubling is the typical scathing remarks of her being a benefits claimant. Nowhere in this article does it state Lynn claims benefits. In fact, not in any of the reports covered by various media outlets has Lynn been revealed to claim benefits. And what if she does, indeed, claim benefits? Why does that factor into her troubles? Do all those who suffer mental distress claim benefits? Are all benefits claimants "thieving, low life layabouts?" NO! No they are not. I had a period this year of unemployment and reluctantly claimed benefits in order that I could feed myself! I was actively seeking work. I was interviewing twice a week for the most part. I just fell on difficult times. I also have mental health issues. Does that make me "one of them"?

Lynn has a legitimate diagnosis which proves that she isn't faking it and if she really was "in it for the money" don't you think she would have opted for a story with better "believability"?
Everyone's suffering is relative. When I say "I'm starving" I don't mean I'm third world country, child with a distended stomach starving. No, what I mean is "I have experienced a full stomach, my stomach is no longer full, it troubles me and I have a great need for food". I suffer. I suffer a lot with my own mental distresses. I find a lot of my distresses more troubling owing to my knowledge of psychological development and the awareness that my thinking is flawed yet I'm incapable of changing it. That almost distresses me as much as the distresses themselves!  

In order to really combat stigma, we need to look to ourselves. Ask ourselves WHY we react in the way we do. We need to educate these people who believe that Lynn deserves her suffering and ought to be locked away or should kill herself. Just because you don't understand someone else's suffering doesn't give you the right to condemn them. 

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