Talk is cheap – or is it?

I guess you all know that yesterday marked the first ever outing of Time to Talk Day, described on the official website as ’24 hours in which to start conversations about mental health, raise awareness and share the message that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and neither is talking about it.’

The idea was that for a whole day, people of all stripes would gather over a cuppa (in my opinion, the most reliable of all antidepressants) and strike up conversations which would include saying nice things about mental health issues – in environments as diverse as offices, libraries, schools and shopping centres. And goodness me, even people like AXA PPP, private medical insurers, were adding in their caring two-bob’s worth!

Now call me a cynic, but I wonder how many of those with mental illness were chirpily flicking on the kettle for Elevenses and tweeting a shot of their cuppa at the appointed hour, while animatedly drilling down into the subject of say, their suicidal depression or bipolar affective disorder? And by contrast, how many of those who cannot come close to understanding the actual experience of living with mental illness were taking advantage of the latest pitch at self-promotion, the latest opportunity to associate themselves with a worthy cause?

In this context, talk is decidedly not cheap, but rather has a distinctive value, oiling the voracious wheels of the public relations industry. Gotta have something to talk about don’t we, something to create a new logo for, something to make us look the part while we cash in on the referred glory that will come our way by association. How much of the money paid towards staging this day could have been used to help people with actual mental illness, like my friend, let’s call her Veronica, who has been on the brink of suicide all week?

When I spoke to Veronica on the telephone last Sunday, she could barely talk, occasionally supplying faint, monosyllabic answers to my basic, by now anxious, questions about the state she was in. You see, Veronica has attempted suicide three times before, so she has form.

In this latest episode, her mother wound up taking her to hospital, where she was told, more or less, to ‘get a grip’ and that there are people who are much worse than her whom they had to prioritise. Veronica has been in the system for fifteen years and she will tell you that the system is broken at every level, from clinicians’ basic understanding of mental illness to the barrage of drugs she’s endured over the years. (On this note, she has told me that she survived this latest bout without the aid of antidepressants and that she can now see that antidepressants made, at best, no difference to her thinking and, at worst, made things worse.)

Oh yes, it’s time to talk alright, but perhaps not in the frivolous, self-serving way that the ‘powers that be’ dream up to try to convince everyone that there’s progress being made. Just how gullible are we? Do we not understand the vested interests in promoting mental illness? This is where the talk needs to be – in exposing those who have plenty to gain from the existence of the mentally ill.

Written by Jacqui Hogan