Miley Cyrus’s response to Sinéad O’Connor on mental health reveals all the old prejudice
While celebrities get the headlines over mental illness, ordinary people’s experiences matter too
Left to right, Miley Cyrus and Sinead O’Connor: Cyrus’s naive admonition of O’Connor has been nearly universally condemned. photograph: pa wire
Myley Cyrus’s ill-judged and thoughtless riposte to Sinéad O’Connor last week has at least highlighted the fact that old prejudices about mental health still abound.
Cyrus’s attempts to shed her wholesome Hannah Montana image have been played out in public with her now-notorious appearance at the VMA awards followed by the phenomenally successful but explicit Wrecking Ball video.
Part of the video featured a close-up of Cyrus with a tear in her eye modelled on O’Connor’s video for Nothing Compares to You in 1990.
It was this analogy which prompted O’Connor to respond in an open letter “in the spirit of motherliness and with love”.
She told Cyrus that’s she was in danger of being “pimped” out by thinking it was “cool to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos”.
“It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped.”
Cyrus’s response was extremely unwise and illustrates the perils of young celebrities with immediate access to their fans through social media.
“First there was Amanda Bynes, now there’s this,” Cyrus wrote referring to the former teenage actress Bynes who has had serious mental health issues.
She posted a series of two-year-old tweets from O’Connor which amounted to a cry for help after a psychiatric episode.
Reinforcing the stigma
Cyrus’s naive admonition of O’Connor has been nearly universally condemned not least by O’Connor herself who wrote another open letter stating: “I mean really really . . . who advises you? Have you any idea how stupid and dangerous it is to mock people for suffering illness?”
Niall Breslin, aka Bressie, who has had mental health issues of his own, summed up the revulsion of a lot of people towards Cyrus.
“Miley Cyrus’s reply to Sinéad O’Connor once again manages to reinforce the stigma on mental health. Miley indeed is a horrible human being,” he tweeted.
The response to Cyrus has shown how much perceptions of mental illness have changed, according to Sorcha Lowry of Headline, the organisation which monitors coverage of mental health issues in Ireland.
“I think we’ve turned a corner. People know right from wrong,” she said. “The media commentary and the public backlash shows what is not acceptable compared to what was acceptable years ago.
“I believe that social media is driving the quality of coverage of mental health, demanding sensitivity and giving a platform to authentic voices and highlighting for editors that the public appetite for formulaic and misleading coverage of mental health has moved on.”
The growth of social media forums, most notably Twitter and Facebook, have given ordinary people a voice in mental health issues which, in turn, influences media coverage of events, she believes.
“The public set the tone of what is acceptable and what is insensitive and unacceptable.”