One of our Olympic heroes is suffering from an illness, and yet the media (and the general public), are busy surmising ‘what went wrong’ and ‘how did he get into such a mess’?
Quite frankly, nothing went wrong. He is sick.
When people get cancer, no one asks them, ‘what went wrong?’
When people are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, no one asks them, ‘what did you do to get yourself into this situation?’
Certainly, their medical issues are not splashed all over the television, newspapers and internet.
There are two things wrong in this situation. Actually, there are more than two things, but I will only mention the two that I find most offensive.
Firstly, the stigma associated with mental health issues has to stop. NOW!
I am no expert in mental health issues, but having suffered from several depressive episodes, I feel I am (slightly) qualified to speak.
Mental illness is a very complex set of conditions. According to the Black Dog Institute, the most common are anxiety, depression and substance use disorder, with almost half (45%) of Australians experiencing a mental illness in their lifetime.
Yet these conditions still have such stigma attached to them. The Mental Health Foundation of Australia lists the following as common stigmas attached to mental illness:
- Mental illness is rare and doesn’t affect average people
- People with mental illness are dangerous
- If you have a mental illness you can ‘will’ it away
- Needing treatment means you are weak or have failed in some way
- People with mental illness are receiving treatment
- Mental illness is more like a weakness than a real illness
- People with mental illness can never be normal.
All of the above are myths. Mental illness affects more people than you know. Statistically, almost half the people you know will suffer from this condition in their lifetime. Yet sadly, only 20 per cent of people with mental illnesses seek treatment
Why is this? More than 20 per cent of people seek treatment for diabetes. More than 20 per cent seek help for heart disease — and more often than not, these are conditions that are caused by living an unhealthy lifestyle. Where is the stigma attached to that?
Why, do we not call people who have directly contributed to their own illnesses (such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc.), lazy, fat and irresponsible? Why don’t we ask them ‘what went wrong with your life?’. ‘Why are you so weak, you have let this happen to you?’ Why don’t we talk about them behind closed doors?
Why don’t we ridicule them and pity them, and make them feel like losers who can’t keep their life together?
It is a disgrace that in this day and age, when we so freely accept many things, we still cannot accept that depression, anxiety or the host of other mental illnesses are just that — illnesses.
Is it any wonder that people are loathe to seek help.
In the case of Ian Thorpe, I am sure that many people, both in Australia and around the world genuinely wish the best for him. I am sure that most of us hope he makes a full recovery and is able to find happiness and fulfilment in whatever he chooses to do in life.
Yet there is a side of many of us that wants to know ‘the inside scoop’. What really went wrong?
Are all the rumours true?
This is the second major thing that is wrong with all of this. It really is none of our business. Full stop. Do you hear me? NONE OF OUR BUSINESS.
Sure Thorpe was, and continues to be to some extent, in the public eye. He was one of Australia’s most successful swimmers having won five Olympic gold medals, the greatest total of any Australian. He has broken numerous world records and has won gold medals in many swim meets. Along the way, he won the hearts of millions.
In 2012, he published his autobiography This is Me, in which he admitted to suffering from depression and alcohol abuse for many years prior to his retirement from swimming. He stated that after a secret meeting with a doctor to discuss his depressive and suicidal thoughts, he ‘felt as if I now had a secret and no one to share it with’.
Yet ironically, since sharing his secret, he no longer has the privacy he needs to recover.
Tabloid reports last week surfaced that he was battling depression and alcohol abuse. Reports that Thorpe and his manager denied. His alleged admittance to a rehabilitation clinic publicised for all to see.
As a former sufferer of depression, I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling either, nor how I was trying to deal with it. Having it broadcast to the world would have been mortifying in the extreme. Not to mention how unhelpful it would have been.
Thorpe’s manager, James Erskine admitted that such media reports were not helpful. “There is no doubt about it, the false reports did upset him. I’m not saying it sent him in a downward spiral but it did upset him. He didn’t go to rehab. That’s the truth. Everyone has to give him some space,” he says.
And Erskine is right. He needs space. His family need space. His friends need space, and the people treating him need space.
This is not an opportunity for journalists to delve into his ‘psyche’. The only ones allowed to delve into his psyche would be his medical team who are trying to treat him. Last time I checked, they will do that in a private manner. So anything you may read in the papers is probably not true.
What’s seems to be wrong with reporting in this country (and in many others), is that the ‘public’s right to know’ is treated too liberally.
I’m sorry, but the general public really don’t have a right to know about the private medical issues of a fellow Australian, whether he is well-known or not. Not unless, the person in question has made a public statement. To date, Thorpe has not made a statement about recent events.
If the names of convicted paedophiles and sexual predators can be protected (and don’t get me started on this one!), then why not the private lives of our fellow human beings?
It seems to me, that when there are stories to be written, money to be made and gossip to sell, common decency and respect go out the window.
A well-known journalist who names criminals convicted on sex crimes against children is held in contempt of court and goes to jail. I would have thought that this kind of information was more in line with the ‘public’s right to know’, than Thorpe’s battle with depression.
So if you really care about Ian Thorpe (and thousands of other Australians who suffer from mental illness), and genuinely wish the best for him, I ask you to do the following:
- Wish him well
- Pray for him and his family (if you are the praying type)
- Don’t pity him — pity is not something depressed people like to have thrown their way
- Stop reading the stories about him and his condition
- Stop gossiping about him with the people you meet
- Avoid buying the magazines that will claim to have the ‘inside scoop’
- Make a donation to the organisations that are fighting the war against depression.
But most importantly, if you are feeling down, or anxious and suspect that you may be feeling depressed, please seek help.
Phone: 1300 22 4636
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