Yesterday was the 20th World Mental Health Day, an annual event intended to raise awareness of mental health issues. This year’s theme is ‘Depression: A Global Crisis’. As this post from The Quietus powerfully demonstrates, ‘two articles published this week have demonstrated quite how much we have yet to achieve.’
I don’t have much to add to Josh Hall’s piece, which pinpoints how crass and inaccurate coverage of mental health issues in the media can be, except this: I was particularly struck by India Knight’s claim that ‘there is no stigma’ attached to depression–quite aside from how she chooses to understand or use that term–any more, because of the number of contemporary popular memoirs about their authors’ experience of mental illness. One part of our research in the CHH is concerned with this genre of writing and its recent explosion. It is a publishing phenomenon and a genre which, we have found, produces some ambivalence among readers, journalists, critics, and students, as often dismissed or equated with emotionally incontinent misery memoir as celebrated for its contribution to the understanding of particular problems of illness or health. This is clearly the distaste and suspicion which lies behind Knight’s piece, and she is very far from being original here. Unfortunately, stigma is a complex phenomenon, and not the same as taboo. Because something is highly visible, talked about, or published about, does not mean that it is destigmatized; sometimes, quite the opposite. This example of depression, and all writing about depression, being associated by a columnist with popular hobby horses of the op-ed page such as celebrity culture, ‘misery lit’, etc., especially in pointed opposition to ‘what normal people do’ (Knight’s phrase), is in fact perfectly illustrative of stigma in action.