Friday, 30 April 2010

"Galactic Teabag says enough is enough..."

I nearly wrote this piece late last night, but settled for a facebook status instead. I am, however, still mad about it in the cold light of day, so I'm going to do the post anyway.

Today I am mad about this:

"Depression is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long. (Put this as your status if you have had or know someone who has had depression. Most people won't, but it's mental health week and 1 in 3 of us will suffer at some point in our lives.)"

It's a facebook status update that was doing the rounds last night - and it's by no means the first one I've seen. And, it may be a controversial oppinion, but they piss me off.

I'm fine with the ones that are actually trying to do something positive, like promoting an event like this one from back in January:

"Put this as your status if you or somebody you know has suffered or is suffering from a mental illness. Mental health is a BIG TABOO, so break the silence to support all those that are or have suffered. Most try to cope alone. Come along to the Mental Health Network meeting on Mon at 6.30pm in the [student's union]."

or even ones that have the courtesy to link to a website such as this one.*

But last night's? Just a big fat no. thank you.

It's problematic in so many different ways. Firstly, it's difficult posting anything like that to start with. Because of the taboo, there are many, many people out there who don't *want* to admit that they've suffered/ are suffering from depression, or who just aren't ready to talk about it yet. Encouraging people to get help and trying to break the silence is one thing, but pressuring people into owning up is another.

Secondly - "depression isn't a sign of weakness", fine, yes, great. It's an illness that is more common than you think, and which isn't your fault if you get it. "
it is a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long"... Um.... what now? So all depression stems from life events? Way to simplify a complex issue which can have many different causes, symptoms and presentations, and way to tackle the stereotype that you can only be depressed if you've had a hard life. It's that kind of attitude that actually stops people like me from seeking help because they think that no-one will believe them, because from the outside their life looks fine, and there are plenty of people far worse off. That's not a deep insight into mental illness - that's a trite halmark gift card. A motivational poster slogan. An idiotic pronouncement on an electronic post-it.

Thirdly - something like this is a great way for someone to look socially aware and sympathetic** without actually doing something about the problem. Its me-too-ism. The equivalent of jumping on the band waggon of "Yes! I too have been affected by all these issues! Why? Because I have a depressed friend!" and it's insulting. It's fetishising mental illness, not seriously trying to solve the problems of its stigma. One of the facets of which is the idea that a lot of people "only do it to get attention"***. Again - not helping.

I'm not asking people to stop with all of these posts because it's annoying and I wish they would go away, so I can live my life pretending the issues don't exist - I live with the issues anyway, so that would be impossible - I just think that, well intentioned or not, sometimes they actually do more harm than good. I would therefore ask people to please, think before you post.

*I'd even be happy if it was linking to a personal blog post on the subject (not that I'm plugging or anything...)
** Not that everyone who puts this up isn't socially aware and sympathetic, just that posting this as your status doesn't actually count as being saas in itself.
*** As if attention was a bad thing? As someone who's been ignored and excluded more times than I can count, it gets old very quickly.


  1. Our mutual friend Amy Buchanan Hughes has told me that I should tell you that I like this post and why. :)

    I have commented on several friends' Facebook statuses (with the above excerpt), linking to this entry. The other problem ofcourse is that it is NOT Mental Health Action Week, which was in early April!

    I have also suggested like you have, to include links to relevant resources, the Uni counselling service and the Mental Health foundation, for example.

    One friend has responded well, and recognised that without any useful information or links to resources, then the status is nothing more than a "Look, I feel sorry for you, everything's gonna be alright" message at best, and "Look everyone, I am breaking the taboo of mental health because I know people with Depression" at worst.

    I told them not to get rid of the post, but to maybe modify it to something more useful and less patronising. :) xxxx

    PS - All thanks to you, I should mention! Wonderful blog. Have a read of mine if you wish, but I warn you it is quite shallow and irrelevant to anything important in life :P


  2. Thanks!

    It's always great to know that people like reading what I write, and even better to know it's doing a little bit of good in the world.

    I'll head on over and have a proper read of your blog when I get the chance - awesome background, by the way - where did you get it from? I need to update mine to something more interesting...

    AJ :)

  3. Yeah, I was telling Amy tonight, that since reading your blog I have been thinking more about feminist issues, which in the past I have tended to ignore as not-really-my-problem.

    She said to me that you thought I'd found your blog through another feminist website, and that you were pleased that you were reaching your target audience.

    I said, maybe I should pretend that I did, when in fact, I found you via Nik Myers' blog. But actually, I realised this, and I'm not just saying this to make you feel better - although your aim may have been for the blog to appeal to and be read by an already active, interested feminist, the fact that you have got someone who hasn't previously considered themselves a feminist to really start thinking about the issues you raise, and want to read the articles you cite, post and the books you reccommend, should be evidence enough that you are doing the right thing - and maybe even more of an achievement than appealing to someone who already shared your views? Just a thought, and I thought I'd let you know!

    The background was from, some nice ones on there :) xxxx

  4. At first I wasn't sure, but after realising that you started commenting about the same time that Nik's blog showed up I had a sneaking suspicion that you might have come via that...

    But I honestly don't mind. Yeah, I'd love to have my blog included in the roll-call of prominent feminist blogs out there, but I don't want to be just preaching to the choir all the time. While it's great to be creating and participating in a feminist space, and I think having such spaces is important, it doesn't *do* vast ammounts to change the way things are. I think you're absolutely right that it's more of an achievement to get someone who had previously not been interested to engage with the subject, and I'm really happy if I've been able to do that.

    Thanks for saying it though :)

    And at the end of the day, as long as I'm being read by people who enjoy reading it, no matter where they came from, and no matter if they agree with everything or not, then I'm happy.

  5. Also - I just hate the concept of a "target audience". It's way too exclusive, and suggests that you can never have a diverse readership.

    I write - fact or fiction - for myself and people who like reading. And I'm not going to deliniate further than that. ;)