India Knight and the Twitter Fight

Ok so it was not much of a fight but it did rhyme and makes for a catchier title.

Head over to twitter and do a search for India Knight, a journalist who “writes columns for The Sunday Times”

She published an article this weekend entitled “Just when you thought misery lit had crawled back into its dark cellar …”

And suddenly all hell broke loose on twitter with people sending abuse her way based on comments from celebrities, not based on the fact that they had read the article.

The problem as I saw is was that there were 2 articles published in the past few days about depression that did not show it in a positive note, the first was India Knights and the second was in The Sun see here for my take on The Sun’s story.

I have finally managed to track down India’s piece and in all honesty she makes SOME valid points, I say some because there are points in it that to me are completely wrong and ill informed (in my opinion anyway)

The main argument of of her article was how there appears to be a glut of celebrities recently “coming out” with their stories about suffering with mental health illnesses in books, perfectly timed for the Christmas market to increase sales.

I am all for celebrities speaking out but as I have said before, and on other peoples blogs on the matter it is usually timed to coincide with an autobiography, new film/ TV show and seems to be more about the product they are pushing than helping to raise awareness of mental health issues. Once the book or show has been released that celebrity seems to move on to the next project without maintaining their stance on mental health and publicising it.

Perhaps Stephen Fry is an exception to this rule more than most.

The following was the opening of her article

Are there people left standing who still believe that depression is “taboo”, and that by speaking about their own they are bravely shining a light – “just a little beam, but I do what I can” – into the darkness?

I ask because in the past six weeks alone a slew of autobiographies – the blockbuster ones published to coincide with the fat, money-spinning Christmas market – have put depression at the centre of their narratives.

From David Walliams to Antonio Carluccio, from Victoria Pendleton to Jack Straw (never mind the politics; where’s the crying?), via Edna O’Brien and Pamela Stephenson . . . the list goes on and on.

Where depression isn’t central to the plot, and where the book is a novel, the author’s struggles with mental health are revisited for publicity purposes, as with JK Rowling, who to promote her new book has spoken yet again about the depression she has endured in the past.

I understand: depression is debilitating. It is an illness. Carluccio says he has attempted suicide six times, which is not a thing I or anybody else should make light of. But there I was happily dancing a cancan to celebrate the demise of the misery memoir – everybody suddenly remembered being locked in a cupboard as a child: grimness guaranteed, no detail too grotesque or traumatic, £14.99, ideal gift – when I realised that my delight was premature. All that’s happened is that depression has replaced child abuse as the go-to, sales-boosting topic.”

 

Now if we take away the statement of taboo, which clearly is an issue but for a non sufferer she would not understand, she does make a point.

Is “depression the new go-to sales-boosting topic”?

It does appear that suddenly more and more famous people are telling the world about their issues and whilst this is a good thing in general is it a case of watering down the seriousness of the illness that depression is?

Yes the more people that speak out about it the more we can educate and inform but does all this celebrity book selling make it harder for normal people like me to get a fair judgement.

And she continues..

The thing is, whereas you could argue – I wouldn’t, but you could – that misery memoirs did indeed shine a light on a taboo subject and, by doing so, removed some of the shame or stigma that victims of child abuse often feel throughout their lives, the same simply isn’t true of depression. There is no stigma.

It is true that, long ago, depression was perhaps viewed with suspicion, or not taken as seriously as it might have been: certainly I remember Stephen Fry having a meltdown in 1995, walking out of a West End play he was starring in and disappearing to Belgium, and I remember that people thought he was just an actor having some sort of hissy fit. This was not the case: Fry was ill – and has been volubly explicit about the illness since.

I’m sorry for them, just as I’m sorry for anyone depressed, but, really, do they want a medal? But not only has the light been shone; it has become a blinding ray. We know. We understand. There can be few people reading this who haven’t either suffered from depression or had a friend or family member who has.

and this is where she lets herself down because there is obviously a stigma attached to people with depression and other mental health illnesses. The trouble is unless you have experienced the stigma, people avoiding you because your ill, the trauma of the workplace gossip for example, then you really shouldn’t write about it. One of the principles I hold dear when writing my blog is that if I have no experience of it I will not write about it and it is a shame that someone who is clearly respected as a writer did not think of this aspect. I can’t write about India and her possible PMT symptoms for example as I do not know a thing about them and I would not be brave enough to attempt to say she turns into some sort of emotional junk food eating monster on a monthly basis. It may be the case but I don’t know that so wouldn’t suggest it.

The problem with her article was that it started so well but then descended into a kind of stigmatic idiocy that cause many of us who do suffer to do so in silence. Had it stuck simply with the original context it may not have had the reaction it did.

Some more examples of outlandish comments are here

Few people think those who suffer depression are weirdos or oversensitive flowers, or just need to pull their socks up and get a grip.

But we don’t say this. We are so well trained, so adept at respecting depression, that we say, “Oh dear, poor thing – the illness, you know.”

Where my sympathy wavers is when depression is used as bait, or as the gilt on the lily. I get this too, at one level: the publishing industry is in such dire straits that telling your story is no longer enough. There needs to be a journey, a trajectory, and as much darkness as possible amid the light, so that you come across as a normal person.

Everybody gets depressed, and one person’s depression is not a million miles from another’s

What irritates me is the idea that by “speaking out”, celebrity autobiographers are being heroically honest and somehow doing us all a favour. They’re not merely celebrities telling their stories; they’re now campaigners, if you please – brave pioneers in the battle to smash the taboos surrounding mental health. But there are no taboos in this context.

Taboos exist, certainly, but they concern people who are eating from bins and shouting at pigeons. They do not concern privileged, talented people who are depressed in the considerable comfort of their own home, with the best drugs regime that money can buy. I’m sorry for them, just as I’m sorry for anyone depressed, but, really, do they want a medal? Going on and on about depression can seem an awful lot like narcissism: “I’m so interesting that even my illness is fascinating.” You long for someone to say: “I felt like crap for two years and then I got over it.” Which is, by the way, what normal people do.

The whole point of her article though was about celebrities exploiting their fame by using whatever is the current in style.

The article was an attack on celebrities it was not about average Joe Public but why should celebrities not deserve the same sympathy?

Do people really think that those with money cannot suffer from any form of mental health illness?

Based on some of the responses on twitter regarding this and the the article in The Sun that really appears to be the case.

Unfortunately for India she was suddenly under mob siege from people who over-reacted and probably a lot of the fury directed at her was meant for the sun and it did nothing to show people with mental health illnesses in a positive light. There was no thought out argument from people just abuse which really was a shame because lets face it, whether we agree with her article or not she has actually written about mental health in a national newspaper.

How is this different from a celebrity serialising parts of their new book in the same medium? It is no different expect she spoke out against the culture of biographies from famous people.

Even then was it the biographies or the way they are advertising them? probably the latter and for me she has a case.

She more than harmed her own case though with some rather derogatory remarks but I understand why she suddenly went on the defensive based on the abuse she received and I am sure she would, although not publicly, regret some of the things she said. But who hasn’t said things in the heat of the moment when under attack.

If more people judged her on what she actually wrote and not on the hearsay of celebrities (and Charities for that matter)  there would have been hardly a mention of it. Though surely the positive is that it got people talking about mental health and that, after all, is what we strive for. If it takes a few negative comments in a post to get the ball rolling then so be it but please if you have to respond do so in a way that educates not agitates, abusing someone for having an opinion on mental health is not going to change the way they feel about it.

Everyone has an opinion and be it right or wrong we have to respect them for having one, if we disagree that is perfectly fine but we should feel like we have to force our views onto others through abuse.

As for India she done her job didn’t she? surely her role as a journalist is to get people talking about something she has written and that was certainly the case yesterday. Maybe she learned that mental health is more taboo than she previously though.

I am hoping India gets to read this because I would like to point out I too have a book on depression but I am not famous so can she please clarify that it is ok for me to continue to publicise it 😀