4 Goes Mad: Still unsure after a week of TV
I’ve been trying to write this blog for about a week and half. Normally, I’m opinionated enough just to let a stream of consciousness flow but the '4 Goes Mad' series has really stumped me. I’ve been unsure. Do I think it is a good thing or a bad thing? Does it trivialise a really serious subject for the sake of entertainment? And crucially what is the point and will it actually achieve anything?
This lunchtime a twitter chat hosted by @youngmindsuk has inspired me to write and I’ve realised that I actually don’t necessarily have the answer to the questions above but I do have views nonetheless.
So here it goes.
My view is that '4 Goes Mad' is a good thing for society as a whole but it is not necessarily the most comfortable viewing if mental illness is something you have a close experience with or you work in the mental health field. I’ll explain.
If you are a mental health campaigner you are driven by a view of society as you want it to be, you have an image where mental health truly has parity of esteem with physical health and you want stigma to be a think of the very distant past. That goal, that vision, is what drives you to act and it can be hard to compromise on that goal. '4 Goes Mad' is by no means perfect but then neither is the society we live in.
I’ve found large parts of '4 Goes Mad' really annoying. I’ve thought ‘but you haven’t got anywhere near the bigger issues of mental health’ and I’ve thought ‘what actually is the point in this programme? And ‘what good is it doing’. Then, I’ve seen a review in The Guardian and The Independent and I’ve seen that millions of viewers have watched the programmes and I’ve thought ‘without these programmes what coverage would mental health have got this week?’
It’s a hard one to balance and I’m wary of sounding like an apologist – which I’m not trying to be. If those in the mental health field aren’t discussing how the programmes could have been made better, then how do we ever expect there to be better mental health programmes in the media?
So at the end of the week I’ve decided '4 Goes Mad' wasn’t for me. It wasn’t for me because as someone in the mental health field the programmes weren’t for me. The series aim is to break down stigma and by that they need to present in a way that doesn’t appeal to me but does to the general public. I’m not a big Ruby Wax fan, I confess to not really knowing who Jon Richardson was before this week and I don’t watch The Apprentice but millions do and they don’t engage with mental health. Well, they do but they don’t realise!
They haven’t always captured the sheer hell of living with mental illness which only those who have experienced can articulate but that isn’t what they set out to do. They set out to engage a public who for generations has swept discussion about mental health under the carpet; who said that mental health is something to be ashamed of.
They chose to do this by trying to introduce mental health issues through a medium that people watch and view. The comparison I’m drawn to is the civil rights movement in the United States and how attitudes towards race started to change there. For every Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Barack Obama who took such strides to breakdown stigma around race I’ll point to Ella Fitzgerald, Chuck Berry and Serena Williams as having also helped break down society’s ills. Those three individuals amongst many others along the way have helped smash through barriers put up by society. Although there is still a way to go, they are part of making sure that race isn’t something to be discriminated on.
I hope that '4 Goes Mad' is the start of something that begins to do the same. Cultural change though comes with a health warning. It can take a long long time and that will be very very frustrating to all of us campaigning for change along the way. It doesn’t mean we should shut up when those ‘on our own side’ get things wrong, we should continue that debate because it is important to strive for that goal and not to compromise on that. If we want things to be better, we need to say when they are wrong.
Celebrities do naturally ‘trivialise’ and ‘glamourise’ mental health, it’s what the media does when it creates celebrities. It doesn’t represent anywhere near the true pain that mental illness brings but it can serve a purpose. It reaches those that don’t ever want to talk about mental health, those that want it kept away from ‘mainstream’ society.
So good luck 4 Goes Mad . You won’t fix society in a week of TV programmes but you might be part of the start and you’ll tick off many in the mental health field along the way but I hope we look back at you in years to come and say that you really started to help shape society in a different way.
Chris Leaman is the Media and Public Affairs Officer and should probably mention these views are his own.