5 August 2011

Spotlight on Mental Health

Even today in our supposed world of tolerance, acceptance and understanding, mental health is a somewhat taboo subject.  Treated as being different from other aspects of medicine, mental illness is still sometimes seen as something to be ashamed of.  As always, the fact that it is misunderstood and a little bit of a mystery creates the illusion that it is something that should be treated with caution and possibly feared.  However, could the recent rise in celebrities stepping forward and publicly acknowledging their mental health issues go some way to overcome this?

Catherine Zeta-Jones recently admitted that she suffers from bipolar disorder, which mental health charities say will help to remove the stigma often attached to mental illness.  Thankfully the media seems to have evolved from the ‘Bonkers Bruno Locked Up’ headline that The Sun ran after Frank Bruno was sectioned under the Mental Health Act in 2003.  The press can often sensationalise mental illness, rather than sensitively discussing the issues and raising awareness of them.  The fact that other celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Russell Brand have also opened up to the public about suffering from bipolar has gone some way to normalise mental illness. 

Mental health charities have congratulated Zeta-Jones for her courage in speaking out about her treatment, as they believe it will help the public to see that mental illness can affect anyone and that it is something that can be treated.  They now want to see well known individuals from a wider variety of backgrounds, not just people from the creative industries, coming forward about their mental health issues.  Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, a campaign to end the discrimination surrounding mental health problems, said "The former prime minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik, got re-elected with an even higher majority once he disclosed he'd had to step back for a couple of months because he'd been experiencing depression."  Yet for British politicians, this seems an unlikely occurance: as the law stands at the moment if you're a sitting MP and you get sectioned, you wouldn't be able to remain an MP.  This is just the sort of discrimination that needs to be addressed.

There is still a long way to go before mental illness is no longer perceived as being separate from physical illness.  However, if public figures continue to help raise awareness by sharing their own experiences of life with a mental illness then hopefully the associated stigma will begin to disappear.

As for Zeta-Jones, she seems to be on the road to recovery following her five-day stay in a rehabilitation clinic in April.  She has returned to the movie set, filming new comedy Playing the Field in Louisiana.

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