Mental illness – stigma and the need to talk

Photo by photoloni via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

Photo by photoloni via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

Articles published across the UK media last week have launched the issue of mental illness into the limelight once again. Michael Johnson, a Manchester City FC midfielder, who has been in the news recently because of reports of his alcohol consumption, over-eating, gambling and his two drink-driving convictions, has written a statement to Manchester City fans saying:

“I have been attending the Priory Clinic for a number of years now with regard to my mental health, and would be grateful if I could now be left alone to live the rest of my life.”

The news of another well-known person’s battle with mental illness has spurned a whole host of different reactions. These range from sympathy (e.g. “perhaps it is no surprise that a young footballer who carries such a great weight of expectation on his shoulders should crack under the pressure”) to outright criticism (e.g. “he should try living the ‘real world’ if he wants to know what it’s like to be under pressure”).

Some criticise a man who has managed to amass around £10m in wages having played only about 10 games since his five-year contract began in 2008 and feel he almost has no right to complain. They ask whether a person who leads such an (at least outwardly) charmed life has the right to suffer from stress, anxiety and pressure?

Organisations such as Mind, the mental health charity, and campaigns such as Time to Change, work tirelessly to bring the topic of mental illness out into the open. However, the fact remains that the stigma surrounding mental ill health means that we often skirt around the topic, when possible. It seems our attention is only fully drawn to mental health topics when they concern a well-known person, perhaps because we admire them (and therefore care about their wellbeing) or envy them (and therefore enjoy revelling in their fall from grace).

The fact remains, however, that mental ill health will affect one quarter of us at some point in our lives regardless of age, social position or financial status. This means that employers/managers may find themselves helping employees who are struggling with mental illness in order to protect not only the interests of their employees but of the organisation as a whole. Free help is available for organisations on supporting staff with mental health issues, as well as on all employee physical and mental health conditions, from the Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44.

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