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
Myley Cyrus has been a star for so long that people forget she is only 20 and has done all her growing up in public.
No such excuse could be offered by the executives in Tesco and Asda in the UK who showed incredibly crass misjudgment by bringing out a series of Halloween costumes featuring “mental patients” with axes and blood.
Again it was public outrage which caused the media to highlight the issue and the costumes were eventually withdrawn.
Earlier this year Headline sought to address the issue of bipolar illness in its campaign called 99 and me. The title refers to the 1 per cent of people who have a bipolar disorder, which includes Sinéad O’Connor but also well-known celebrities such as Catherine Zeta-Jones and Stephen Fry.
Bipolar illness is distinguished by alternating periods of depression and elation, which makes it different to depression where the mood is always down.
It can be accompanied by periods of “mania” where people have manic episodes which can be manifested in many ways, from lack of sleep, distractibility to heightened irritability.
They can behave oddly, have ideas that lose touch with reality and do things that are out of character.
In more serious cases it can lead to psychosis. Some 70 per cent of people with bipolar disorder have an episode of psychosis which is loosely defined as losing touch with reality.
Projecting a positive image
Headline monitored media coverage of bipolar illness over four years between 2008 and 2012.
It found that celebrities such as O’Connor, Zeta-Jones and Stephen Fry had a “very positive effect” on the quality and quantity of coverage of the illness.
There was a particular spike in positive articles surrounding the illness when Catherine Zeta-Jones’s diagnosis was first made public in 2011.
However, Ms Lowry said it was often the experience of ordinary people that made the greatest impact projecting a positive image of mental health issues.
She cited The Irish Times chief reporter Carl O’Brien’s recent series on people who had left mental health settings and returned to the community as an example.
“When someone in the public eye shares their own story it can be extremely powerful in giving a message of recovery and hope and in encouraging others to reach out and seek help,” she explained
“Coverage of Irish celebrities and mental health tends to be much more respectful and sensitive compared with the celebrity stories that originate in the UK and US press.
“The experience of the See Change campaign and stigma-reduction campaigns around the world is that the authenticity and relatability of real people’s stories resonate much better with the public and are more likely to challenge stigma and promote discussion of mental health.”