Time to Talk: England’s version of ‘hug a nutjob’?
The Time to Change campaign isn’t new (according to its site, it’s ‘England’s biggest mental health anti-stigma campaign’ and boasts of accomplishments for 2011, 2010, and 2009). The concept behind it isn’t new. So why does it bother me so much lately?
Simple. It’s everywhere, and it’s a bit offensive.
The current media blitz from TTC is the ‘Time to Talk’ campaign, in which ‘normal’ types are urged to talk to the crazies. See a crazy at work, in the shops, on the street, and throw ’em a bone. Ask how they are, because crazies aren’t scary, just a bit wrong in the head. (If you haven’t seen the TV ad because you’re not the TV sort or live out of the UK, you can watch it on YouTube.)
But while the intent here is to make mental diseases no different than any other disease, there’s something slightly sinister. Mental health problems aren’t a cold. They aren’t something that you take a few days off with and then go back and are all better. Being asked about your mental health disease is kinda like being asked how that genital herpes is treating you.
To me, this campaign isn’t about treating mental problems like a physical problem, it’s about reinforcing beliefs that the people who suffer from mental illness are somehow different. That those crazy types are just like a normal person, but, y’know, not really. The campaign does just what it aims to stop — the ‘othering’ of the mentally ill.
My dislike of the campaign is more than just academic, of course. I make few attempts to hide my mental health diagnosis. It’s a part of who I am, of who I’ve become over the years.
A brief back story for those who haven’t heard it before. Though I’ve had underlying depressive problems for most of my life, I was finally diagnosed in 2001 and diagnosed correctly around 2005. In 2001, after my mom’s death, I couldn’t function. The depression that came out of that was crippling, and I finally swallowed my pride and sought medical help for it.
After seeing a few psychiatrists, I was slapped with the Major Depressive Disorder label and pumped full of anti-depressants. Not in a bad way. In a try a small dose, not enough, try a bigger dose, not enough, try a combo, not enough, try a bigger combo, still not enough way. Of course, as we were all to find out, I wasn’t MDD. When I then went what I lovingly call batshit crazy and all but ruined every single aspect of my life, it became clear there was more than just depression going on.
In 2005, I was finally diagnosed as being Bipolar (type 1, with psychotic features, to be specific, which probably sounds much more crazy than it actually is). I then went through two years of trial and error medicating before finally reaching a point where I was once again functional. I then moved to the UK, where I ran into a totally different set of problems with treatment of mental illness.
As of now, though, I’m in a generally good place, crazy-wise. I don’t think I can stress that enough. I take medication every day, and have finally found a doctor who will let me have input on my medication. (The result being that when I suggested moving to a medication that is used for the treatment of depression, migraines, and pain (all of which I suffer from on a daily basis), he said okay.)
But, as much as I’m open about my mental health problems, the last thing I want is to be stopped by somebody in the shop and asked how I’m doing. I don’t want that sympathetic head tilt and awkward moment of questioning. If I’m out, I’m doing pretty well. If I’m not well, I don’t go out. I can’t go out.
The Time to Talk campaign encourages people to feel okay about talking to people about their mental health problems, but doesn’t seem to acknowledge that some of us crazy folks don’t want to be asked about it. When mental health has eaten away years of your life, you don’t want to be asked about it while you’re stood there trying to find a ripe avocado.
It’s the type of campaign that serves to make people feel better about themselves for proving that they’re totally cool with you being a bit nuts. See, they can ask you about it and everything!
Campaigns like this don’t serve as anti-stigma, they just reinforce the idea that normal people are normal and crazy people are almost like normal. Like normal, but not actually normal.
Maybe we aren’t. Actually, we certainly aren’t. It’s not all bad, of course. (There are almost too many books written about the whole genius/crazy thing.) But no matter what, I don’t want to be asked about it. I want to get on with my life.
I’ve spent too much time fighting to survive, to get through, to get to a point where I can function almost every day (my non-functional days are rare now, and they are exclusively devoid of lamenting social networking posts, lest any of you be worried the next time I post about having a bad day). After that much of a fight, I don’t want to have to talk about it just so you feel good about making me seem normal.
So if you see me, checking out the avocados or choosing a block of cheese, don’t ask how I’m doing with an invisible thought bubble about knowing I’ve had mental health problems. If you do, you can be certain I will — very, very loudly — ask how your genital herpes is getting on.