On Friday and Saturday there was a lot of derision and scorn in my Twitter feed regarding the Prime Minister’s statement that, “just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics.” A huge range of people, from practising Christians through agnostics to committed atheists, pointed out the very obvious discrepancy between the Christian values of social justice and equality and David Cameron’s evident fealty to the City. A number of people (including members of the clergy) wrote to the broadsheets the following day to echo the points raised on Twitter: that reductions in state benefits, rising unemployment and homelessness, an increasing in child poverty, and a continuing culture of unfettered bankers’ bonuses, all bear a stunning lack of resemblance to the message of the New Testament.
Cameron’s statement was, of course, just one in a long line of Government soundbites which have provoked incredulity. Really? we cry. Did they really say that? They can’t possibly mean it – do they? For so much of what is announced sounds so horrifyingly audacious. Does this Government really intend for debt advice centres to close, just as jobs go and wages freeze? Is it genuinely going to send a Bible to every school while cutting funding to Children’s Services? Does it truly think it’s OK to slash Legal Aid funding to domestic violence victims? From the position of the ordinary person, many of these policies do seem downright bizarre; craziness, with an edge of cruelty. I imagine it was this which prompted someone I follow to tweet on Saturday:
“I’m beginning to have the sneaking suspicion that David Cameron may be mentally ill…..”
As someone profoundly affected by mental ill-health, I found that an offensive statement, and here’s why. Culturally, there is a great temptation when somebody does or says something one abhors to instantly assume that they must be mentally unwell. We see this when someone commits a horrific act of violence and there is immediate media speculation as to whether the perpetrator is “insane”. The fact of the matter is that review after review of homicides show only 1:10 murderers have an identifiable mental disorder at the time of the offence, against an incidence of mental health problems in the general population of about 1:6. Yet the rhetoric of “he must have been mental” prevails, presumably as a distancing mechanism. The logic goes: “this act is horrific and bears no relationship to anything I would do; I am convinced that other sane and normal people would act as I do; therefore the only explanation is that the perpetrator is insane and abnormal.” The tweeter was acting in the same way. She clearly felt that the Prime Minister’s statements were so far removed from her own understanding of the world, that it seemed to her as if had lost touch with reality. That’s certainly a sentiment that many people share, but we would be extremely unwise to take our eye off the actual causes of Government’s bizarre policy statements. Because these are manifestly not people who have an altered view of the world due to a mental health condition. These are people who are indeed out of touch with reality, but this is because they exist in an abnormal bubble of privilege and opportunity. The route of prep school, to public school, to studying PPE at Oxbridge, to Special Advisor, to MP, to a ministerial post is an incredibly rarefied one, which leaves little or no opportunity for contact with life as it is experienced by the vast majority of Britons. This is a cabinet largely comprised of millionaires who subscribe to the centre right belief that people must “take personal responsibility” for their lives, and tend to attribute others’ difficulties to “poor life choices” rather than social factors. If we begin to think that the Government is deluded, we obscure the fact that their outré statements are in fact driven by upbringing and ideology.
Yes, it was an off the cuff remark. Yes, I probably got too huffy about it (being the Word Police again!). The author of the comment does herself suffer from depression. But equating the outlandish with the delusional is part of what makes it harder for people to beat the huge amount of greater amount stigma surrounding psychiatric symptoms such as psychosis. I’d like to see society accept that there are things out there that we just don’t like. That we will come up against incomprehensible behaviour from time to time. That there are nasty people (and parties!) out there, and that sometimes things happen that we would better to just admit are bad, or maybe sad, without having deciding that they must be “mad.”
As ever, you hit the nail squarely on the head – we like to have a scapegoat, so it must have been madness, or it was the fault of some minority that can’t fight back. We project our own weakness onto others that are clearly (in our minds at least.)Inferior to ourselves, denying that they are actually ours. “We couldn’t possibly behave like that”.
My Christmas will be spent coming off fluoxetine, having a few days cold turkey (how appropriate!) then trying Venlafaxine, to try yo rid myself of this awful anxiety and desire to hide until it all goes away. GP says my highs aren’t high enough for bipolar, so don’t have that diagnosis yet. To be honest, getting the label right far less important than getting the treatment right. We shall whether this drug can do the trick. Until recently I would have said that fluoxetine was the one for me, but clearly it’s not working right now – things change!
Going back to the government and it’s “mentally ill” policies, I’ve applied to be on the Ministerial Advisory Group for Mental Health Strategy – 4 members with “lived experience” required. Would love to see what goes on at these meetings!
Hope you have a healthy Christmas and the New Year brings stability and everything else you want.
Hi! I am considering applying for that too! Think it’s so important that they have people on there for whom this is their daily reality. Good luck with the Venlafaxine, it worked well for me for quite a while although I did get some intense nausea at first. Really hope it’s benefical for you and doesn’t take too long to get into your system. Best wishes for Christmas 🙂
Thanks. Do apply for it – you have all the necessary experience and expertise, you are a great communicator. Ideally, we’d both get a place, but I’d be delighted if you did and I didn’t.
Bit worried about how my Christmas will be – stop fluoxetine tomorrwo, four days off, then start on Boxing Day – will be hard to tell whether it’s the Christmas food making me sick or the drugs!
Hope you have a good Christmas too, and maybe I’ll see you on the committee next year!
She clearly felt that the Prime Minister’s statements were so far removed from her own understanding of the world, that it seemed to her as if had lost touch with reality.
The statement you make about me is incorrect.
The tweet where I stated that I’m beginning to have the sneaking suspicion that David Cameron may be mentally ill, was meant in a caring and observational sense.
I have no political affiliation and the tweet was not a political one, nor did it refer to his political poilicies or any of his political speeches.
The tweet I made came from the observation that Mr Cameron is a human being and that he has recently lost a disabled child, (something horrifically unbearlable for any parent), and that he has been unable to have any length of time with his family to mourn his son or to be able to stop and rest himself as he has been constantly under enormous pressure and derision from all sides of the globe due to his job of being the Prime Minister.
All of this must surley have had some affect on his well being and may have led to some form of mental illness, such as depression, something of which I know a bit about.
You are correct in saying that Mr Cameron has had a guilded life, I do not begrudge him that, it is just a different life from the one I have had, but God help us if we all lose our humanity and the ability to show we may have observed something that moves us to show we care about our fellow human beings, what ever others may feel about that particular person or how others may judge them.
My tweet was not meant to cause offence, it was meant to raise a question of caring about our fellow human beings and to not judge them too harshly, for there may be reasons behind the face they present to us and those reasons may mean we may have to care enough to look a little deeper.
I do, however appreciate your point of view regarding my tweet and hope it opens up a wider debate about mental health and eliminating the stigma that is still associated with it.
Thanks for leaving me a comment. It would have been helpful if you could have explained what you meant when I responded to your tweet; I wonder why you didn’t? However, I have to say that your explanation leaves me a little mystified. Everyone that loses someone close to them, especially a child, will suffer. That is, as you say, only human. Yet the whole business of deciding where we are on the continuum of mental health and whether/when we have reached the point of a diagnosable illness is a tricky one. There is a sometimes subtle, but extremely important distinction between natural grieving and depression, between explicable happiness and mania, between anxiety in new siuations and out of control panic. Unless someone shows signs or symptoms of mental illness which we can observe or they “come out” as a sufferer of a mental health problem, I feel it’s very presumptious to assume that they might be suffering from mental ill-health. Most people who are bereaved struggle mightily, some for a long time, but most are able to return to work as Mr Cameron did. Most people weather the bereavement process without developing a mental illness; but some do not, and need extra help. We must not blur the distinction between those with clinically recognisable problems and those traversing the major ups and downs life; diagnostic labels should not be applied unless we are sure it’s appropriate to do so.
I have a great deal of empathy for the Cameron’s loss. I am not a person to rejoice in anyone’s suffering – even the jokes about the deaths of dictators which have gone around on Twitter during 2011 sicken me. But I am afraid I do begrudge Mr Cameron his gilded life. I have worked closely with too many dreadfully vulnerable and marginalised people not to feel that a system which allows some children to attend a school which costs £10,000 a term, while Barnados estimates that 1/3 British children have to go without basics such as adequate clothing or food, is immoral. Mr Cameron had no choice about his upbringing, but nor do the children who live in appalling housing today. He had no choice about being forced to suffer greatly through bereavement; none of us do. But he has a choice now, and his policies are harming the most vulnerable. Observing that only enhances a person’s humanity, in my view, rather than diminishing it.