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Brad, Angelina, Madonna and the Queen speak out about Mental Illness

Posted Jun 27 2008 11:07am

OK, so maybe they didn’t. At least not today. And not all together. But think about how powerful it would be if they did!

With any health problem the normal treatment route is getting it diagnosed then taken care of. If you have a broken leg you would never think about just hopping around hoping no one would notice. If you have a huge gash in your head you wouldn’t shove a cloth in there and hope it healed itself.

Yet when it comes to treating mental illness, far too many people are afraid to get help, to even admit they have a problem. The stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness – and by that I mean everything from depression to schizophrenia – are all too often barriers to people in need of help.

I was thinking about this recently after reading an article in the London Independent newspaper about American comedian Ruby Wax. She has been a fixture on British TV for a couple of decades now. She has also been very open about her battle with depression. In fact one way she has decided to try and take charge of her condition is by becoming qualified as a psychotherapist.

Ruby waxes lyrical about the stigma that still attaches itself to the disease, and by association anyone who has it. She talks about how in the past people who were mentally ill were likely to be burned at the stake, today we just shove them to the side, or turn away from them altogether leaving them ever more vulnerable, ever more likely to succomb to the disease.

What was encouraging about the article is how many people, like Wax, are now speaking out about their struggles with mental health. People like ’60 Minutes’ anchor Mike Wallace, British actors Hugh Laurie (of “House” fame) and Oscar winner Emma Thompson who once wrote about depression saying “”It doesn’t make you want to kill yourself – you just don’t want to be.”

This is where the real power of celebrities comes in useful. Forget promoting their latest TV show or perfume on ‘Entertainment Tonight” or their latest movie on “Letterman”. By speaking out about mental illness they can take away some of the fear and ignorance about the disease.

It won’t prevent anyone becoming depressed or suffering from bipolar disorder, but it will make it easier for them to come out into the open and talk about it.

It’s already happening. Growing up in Ireland no one ever talked about these dark moods of the soul. Like so much about people’s inner life it was simply something you didn’t discuss. But now people talk quite comfortably about being on anti-depressants. Some of the shame is gone. But we still have a long way to go.

The more people in positions of influence talk openly, the more we all talk openly about mental illness, the sooner we will reach a point where it is thought of in the same way as other diseases, and hopefully given the same understanding, and sympathy.

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