It’s the middle of May, which means that it’s time for the joyous festive period of Mental Health Awareness Week. The most wonderful time of the year, where everyone and their dog, takes it upon themselves to ‘raise awareness’ and to ‘destigmatise’ mental health (or mental illness if that’s their tipple). A time where everyone can be ‘open’ and ‘show that they care’.
A time where many people with lived experience strongly consider turning off their social media feeds in order to escape the sheer banality of it all. I’ve been watching the rise of #MHAW over the past few years with equal amounts of incredulity, rage, horror and disappointment. It’s a great opportunity to actually get some movement on things – that is wasted on an annual basis.
As you wade through a lot of well-meaning but ultimately infuriating ‘mental-health-ology’ – here are some species of ‘ally’ to keep a look out for in the #MHAW wilds and wilderness, and mark of your #MHAW-nonsense bingo card…
The Phone Number Post
Sightings of this species are rare, though evidence of it’s presence is commonplace as it’s cries that resemble a phoneline are often heard. This is the thing that gets me the most incandescent the most quickly. It’s typically a post that reads ‘National Suicide Helpline’ – complete with a phone number. Harmless yes? No, because in the UK as it happens, WE DON’T HAVE A NATIONAL SUICIDE HELPLINE! And this is toxic because people who post this stuff obviously don’t know that, and the people in need who see it – are likely to feel misled. One small mercy this year, is that the number most often seen on this type of post is for PAPYRUS – Prevention of Young Suicide, a wonderful charity that I’m honoured to have worked with over several years, but even this is not the whole story – as they are set up to help those under 35, and their HopeLineUK is not manned 24/7.
The Celebrity Sighting
Noted for it’s bright plumage and loud call, this species runs on hot air, but thrives in the plentiful feeding grounds of national news networks. Look for Ruby Wax to slither back onto your screens or airwaves, peddling her own toxic brand of mindfulness and pathology. Look for Clarke Carlisle, Frank Bruno, or some other sportsman to be interviewed about why it’s so hard for men in particular to talk mental health. Look for Stephen Fry to frustratingly back a medical model of mental illness for which there is no basis. I do not doubt the sincerity of any of these people (except for Wax who I think has an element of self-promotion about her), I am frustrated by the fact that it’s the same celebrity narrative pushed. As if somehow, a famous person with some mental struggles, legitimises it for the rest of us. It also reinforces the message that because ‘it can happen to anyone’ (true), that structural, societal problems don’t need to be addressed.
This species is rarely seen, and descriptions by biologists vary as to it’s characteristics. What is awareness raising at this point in the mental health narrative? We have awareness. So much of it in fact that #MHAW has become a widely known thing. But what does that actually look like in practice.
This has two particularly noticeable subspecies:
1. (Allyus Hypocritus) ‘I will copy and paste this line about being an ally for those with MH issues – thus displaying the fact that empathy doesn’t factor into my public pronouncements.
2. (Allyus Gamblus) ‘I bet only my real friends will copy and paste this status about MH – thus allowing me to subtly shame those that don’t – and disregard those who post about MH outside of a prescribed week’.
Note – sometimes these two combine to create Allyus Douchebagus
Depression is a Sign of Being Too Strong For Too Long
A creature much more under threat in recent years as it’s habitat becomes overcrowded with other popular memes. Not long ago it roamed the plains of facebook and could be sighted all year round. It still appears in #MHAW, it’s natural breeding period.
A recently discovered species, diet consists mainly of morbid curiosity and saccharine.
No. Posting a picture of Robin Williams with platitudinous bullshit about those that smile the most being the saddest doesn’t make you an ally.
Sighted all year round, this species comes out often in #MHAW and pledges action and funding. This seductive cry is actually a clever trap to lure in vulnerable prey, which it then eats at the ballot-box – seen in plumage of all colours.
These are the primary species sighted around this time – if you spot other species or subspecies – let me know either in the comments or on Twitter (@ChrisCoombs88). I’m going down to the Winchester and waiting for all this to blow over…