We all know that The Sun is not exactly a friend to those with mental health problems. It seems to specialise in vile headlines and sensationalist reporting geared towards titilating the senses of the self righteously mentally healthy. Yet another of these headlines has appeared in today’s issue. “Timebomb“. I know that what’s written in The Sun is drivel, and I should really ignore it. I would, except it influences the opinions of so many people, who in turn inflict their opinions on people like me.
The article focuses on a woman who appeared in the first episode of the X Factor last weekend. She made it through to the next round, performing in a manner which Simon Cowell described as being ” like a musical exorcism”. However, this morning’s Sun tells us:
“Last night she was facing the axe from the series after a Sun investigation revealed she had been diagnosed with serious mental issues – but had not informed show bosses. Psychiatrists have declared she has a series of problems which may affect her ability to care for [her daughter] Mariah. And experts fear she may worsen if propelled to fame by The X Factor.”
A medical source said: “Shirlena is as fragile as Susan Boyle was – but the difference is that Susan didn’t have a child to worry about. We believe this woman is not a suitable candidate for a reality show that can cause immense stress and instant fame. Hopefully the makers will agree that the best thing for Shirlena and her child is to gently drop them from filming and let us help her be the best mother she can. The source added: “Sadly Shirlena is not in the best of health. She has been described by expert professionals as a ‘ticking timebomb'”.”
Leaving aside our overwhelming gratitude at the altruism The Sun has once again displayed in investigating this cruicial issue, we might initially think how sensible this all is. Clearly this woman is not well enough to be doing this show, she should be withdrawn immediately.
Firstly, who are these medical sources? Who are these psychiatrists and expert professionals who know so much about Shirlena? They are portrayed as being directly involved in her care. Ever heard of trusting relationship between service user and professional? Ever heard of confidentiality?
Secondly, if being propelled to fame may worsen her alleged mental health problems, how will having them splashed all over The Sun for the whole country, including her friends, family and neighbours, to drool over help? How will being dropped from the show, despite succesfully getting through to the next round, help her mental health?
Thirdly, assuming that she actually has been ‘diagnosed with serious mental issues’, does this automatically mean that she is not able to carry on with the show? For me, this is a crucial issue.
Does a mental health diagnosis mean that a person will never be able to do stressful activitites such as enter the X Factor? Or for that matter be a doctor or social worker, be an MP, do jury service, or foster a child? She is an autonomous adult, she isn’t sectioned, she is in control of her own choices. Doesn’t she have the right to decide herself if she can cope with it? A diagnosis isn’t the definition of a person’s ability to cope with life. You could be diagnosed at 18 with bipolar disorder after a period of mania. Within 6 months you could, theoretically, be on the right medication for you, that prevents further mania and modifies depressive episodes. You would still have the diagnosis, but you could also still cope with training to be a doctor. You could have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, which may cause you difficulties with intimate relationships. You would still have the diagnosis, but you could still cope with getting a record deal and recording your first album. Having a diagnosis should not mean the end of hopes and dreams. This woman represents a sizable proportion of the population, with a serious mental health diagnosis, who nonetheless are still able to get on with their lives and achieve the things that are important to them. I personally find it insulting that just because she has a mental health diagnosis she should ‘be quietly dropped from the show’.
Additionally, much was made of her failure to inform the show of her diagnosis. What a terrible person. This decision is made by people everyday, as they debate whether or not to inform potential employers of a mental health diagnosis. Yes, we are supposedly protected by the Disability Discrimination Act once we get a job. Doesn’t help much if we don’t get the job in the first place though does it. And we are all aware of the surveys of employers that say they wouldn’t employ someone with a history of mental illness.