Helen Flanagan reveals depression

Guest Blogger
15 Nov 2012

Helen Flanagan reveals depression and panic attacks prior to entering the I'm A Celebrity jungle. Guest blogger Carrie Holroyd on the dangers of celebrities 'coming out'.

Last week Coronation Street actress Helen Flanagan – being interviewed for Reveal magazine prior to leaving for Australia to star in reality TV series I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! – said that depression and panic attacks were the main reason she chose to leave the popular soap opera.

As someone with long-standing mental health problems I applaud individuals who are willing to talk about their own experiences; speaking out, openly and honestly raises awareness about the reality of living with a mental health problem and the stigma we can face as a result of ignorance, prejudice and outright discrimination.

However, for all the good celebrities can do by raising awareness around mental health I am critical of how much good they are actually doing for those of us with mental health problems and how their stories – lauded by the media and mental health charities – may perpetuate a distorted, unhelpful view of mental health problems, which are often complex, highly subjective and can have an impact on myriad areas of a person’s life.

Mental health problems don’t discriminate, they transcend wealth and status, but being able to afford private treatment does make a difference, it gives people more choice and means you are less likely to become more unwell having to wait for the right treatment/support. Right now people with mental health problems are terrified of losing their disability benefits due to Government policy and mental health services are being re-organised or cut altogether. It would be naïve to assume wealth and status don’t matter, but are these things even remotely important to a weekly gossip magazine like Reveal? No, they’re interested in a single narrative of mental illness and recovery, maybe with a love story thrown in for good measure; complexity is rarely sexy and it certainly doesn’t sell magazines.

Helen Flanagan is just one of a growing number of celebrities who have ‘come out’ about their struggle with mental health problems. While I am not disputing she has suffered from depression and panic attacks it would surely be fallacious to ignore the timing, days before flying out to the I’m a Celebrity jungle. Part of the job of being in the public eye is to court attention and disclosing a mental health problem to a popular gossip magazine will get you attention. It’s all part of the media machine and for the most part I have no problem with this, but when stories in gossip magazines that might only tangentially mention mental health are picked up by various media outlets and promoted by mental health charities as an article about a celebrity ‘speaking out’ I worry how this affects the public’s perception of mental health problems.

Whether we like it or not we live in a society where celebrities have a great deal of influence, especially among young people, and in that respect I can understand why mental health charities want to use them to promote their cause, but isn’t there a danger that focusing so heavily on a celebrity’s experience of mental distress may only provide the public with an edited, airbrushed version of one person’s experience rather than a full, detailed picture of what it’s like to live with mental health problems? Celebrities may have influence, but why assume that the public are interested in stories sold for publicity in glossy magazines rather than listening to people who’ve been speaking out for years into a vacuum because their story isn’t pretty, it isn’t glamorous or brimming with positive quotes or nostalgic tales of life at The Priory, because maybe their stories are a bit too real.






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