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Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Mental Illness Does Not Equal #HeadClutcher - Get The Picture?!

As if to prove the point, I even had to have someone else take this picture
because I can't even take a selfie with both my hands in this position!

Today is a great day because the #getthepicture campaign has been launched by Time To Change in association with Mind and other mental health charities. I was blogging away yesterday in a post I will no doubt publish sometime in the future (because it's about anxiety, and I seem to get that quite a lot) but I couldn't feel passionate about writing about my continuing struggles to feel well and, to quote Star Trek to live long and prosper.

It's hard to describe what life is like if you're suffering from a long term mental health condition, because we cannot actually experience life as someone else, however much we try to find similarities in our experiences to join us together. When I was a teacher we used to talk to the children in our English classes about empathy as 'putting yourself in someone else's shoes'. Now, aside from practical and logistical challenges (wrong shoe size, width, or the possibility that they're just f***ing ugly shoes) we cannot experience any kind of illness as another person experiences it and know that we are feeling exactly the same thing - from headaches to heel aches from those darned shoes, we will never know what another's pain feels like, only our own.

Erin's right. There is never an excuse for ugly shoes.

When it comes to illnesses, it's fairly obvious when some people are suffering in a particular way. For example, you may see that someone has a cast on his arm, or a boot on her foot. Or stitches in a prominent position. These are all physical manifestations of a medical condition. It's lucky for the media that these kinds of things exist as their life is very hard. Yes, they have to search through literally one or two image searches to find a perfect picture of someone with a broken leg to write their report on a skiing accident or one of those better accidents where you have it at work and LawyersForFreeExceptWhenWeWinAndFleeceYou.Com come and help you to sue your employers for leaving that big yellow sign saying 'Wet Floor' right where you could trip on it.

"You're going to charge me how much?!"
Appropriate example of a #headclutcher shot

For mental illness it's rather different. (And I shouldn't forget about the hundreds of non-mental-illness conditions that are also invisible.) You can't always see on the outside what someone is feeling on the inside. There are guidelines on how to try to identify when your friends, family or colleagues might be struggling to maintain their mental health you may have seen, some more helpful than others... such as frowning or looking angry, increased frown lines or visible signs of stress, looking sad, tired or being tearful or frustrated easily. (I know, some of these sound a bit ridiculous. It really is all you might have to go on...or nothing at all.)

Bradley Cooper shows us that people with mental health challenges
also sometimes wear bin bags to exercise in. I bet you weren't expecting that!

But that cousin or co-worker could just as easily been dumped recently, seen Still Alice at the movies or stopped using Protect and Perfect anti-wrinkle serum as be depressed. There are no hard and fast, tell all signs that someone is definitely suffering from a mental illness.

"Back off buddy, those wrinkles don't mean a thing."
If you say so Jen. If we looked like you we wouldn't even care about photoshopping.

This makes things tricky for our dear friends in the media, who want everything to be black and white. Is Kim Kardashian's bum too big or not? Well, the answer to that is, both, or one of the two depending on what day it is and how many hits the sidebar of shame is getting on any given day. But they can always accompany this with badly taken pap shots of Ms Kardashian's shapely rear as evidence for their badly written articles peppered with the odd typo and grammatical error in the writer's haste to get Ms K's ass hot off the press, if you know what I mean.

Spot the difference. Yep, it's the addition of *clothes*. you got it in one.

Luckily for the media, Time to Change has come to the rescue. There is no longer any excuse for using pictures of people who are gripping their heads for no apparent reason as representing the mentally ill. You know that cannot be true after all, I mean, I didn't type this post with my nose, that would have taken all day. I typed it with my hands, while feeling moderately anxious because yesterday was one of my 'no sedative' meds nights, and because I'm wondering how much more carrot juice I can drink to keep me from becoming a hippo on my weight-gaining antidepressant pills, and whether actually a Marks and Spencer's chocolate chip cookie is actually calorie free if I eat it standing up. (Course it is.)

Time to Change has launched its campaign and with it a whole host of media images which show people struggling in a more realistic way. They are for the media to use, and are endorsed by the UK Picture Editors' Guild. They worked with people who suffer from these illnesses and medical professionals, among others, to represent mental illness in more sensitive, life-like graphics. I'm guessing none of them will show up in the Sidebar of Shame, but that's only cause KimmyK wasn't available to model for them. The glorious Mr. Fry, though, was, and here he is, showing us all how it's not done. So, media, you're welcome, Time To Change has helped you out. Now #endtheheadclutcher already. And those of you media types who are struggling to keep your mental health in good nick can breathe a sigh of relief, because no one's expecting you to use your toes to type anymore as you clutch your head all day at your desk. See, everybody wins.

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