Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 28 August 2012

You and Me and Dear Old Stephen Fry

I’m not a huge fan of FaceBook, although I do still use it to keep in touch with people, and I’ve used it quite a lot in the past. In particular, it made a great platform for a very interesting art project on the nature of identity. No doubt some of you are more than a little familiar with Adelie High.

Anyway, some of the things that continue to pop up on FaceBook are for the purposes of increasing awareness of various things, and I’m pretty sure that increased awareness is probably a good thing. Let’s talk about stuff. Let’s share our experiences of important things. Talk to me about whatever you like. I’m happy to share my opinions, and, if I have them, my experiences.

I’m just not sure about scale.

For example, I notice that a number of people are sharing, on FaceBook, a YouTube video of Stephen Fry talking about Manic Depression, perhaps more commonly known as Bi-polar Disorder.

I do not know Stephen Fry, although, let’s not pretend I don’t have an opinion or two about him, largely based on his output in the media, and, most recently in the realms of social networking, which have caused me to more-or-less discontinue taking any concerted interest in him. He is, in my (I’m terribly sorry, not always ever-so-humble) opinion, someone whose output benefits from consideration, a period of thought (the ability to ‘sleep on it’ generally doesn’t occur to him (oh... perhaps that’s the mania talking)) and from a good deal of editing. He is, undoubtedly clever. He is not, however, always as charming as he has been led to believe he is, and some of his thoughtless remarks simply come across as ignorant. Being Stephen Fry does not, for example, excuse him from knowing what and where a clitoris is.

Anyway... Can I expect that watching a YouTube of Stephen Fry talking about Manic Depression will increase my or anyone else’s awareness of the condition? I don’t know. I wonder if this is more about Stephen Fry and increasing my awareness of him, and excusing him. I wonder if this is somehow a way of shining a more sympathetic light on one individual than it is a public information film.

That might be too harsh, but I think that my point is this: Most people who suffer from Manic Depression are not Stephen Fry. In fact, no one else who suffers from Manic Depression is Stephen Fry, just as no one else who suffers from Manic Depression is Ruby Wax or Russell Brand or Robert Downey Jr, or Carrie Fisher or Sinead O’Connor. I wonder in the end how much it matters whether I like or admire any of these people, whether I consider them clever, funny or talented. I wonder if most people who suffer from Manic Depression want or need an ambassador of his kind, or, perhaps, of any kind.

With at least one percent of the population affected by the condition, it shouldn’t be difficult to find someone of your acquaintance who is dealing with Manic Depression, so, if you want to increase your awareness, why not talk to him about his experiences? And, if all else fails, why not talk to me?


  1. I figure they use famous people for that "I didn't think he was the type" phenomenon, that ideally makes people re-evaluate what they thought about "the type" or whatever that is.

    as for me, I was once seeing a (truly) lovely girl with manic depression and a methamphetamine habit, which I don't recommend (the combination thereof that is, not that I recommend methamphetamines either), although life was certainly interesting for a while ...

  2. I have similar feelings about Fry, which mostly stem from the interview he gave Attitude magazine. (The contents of which where bad enough, but he then proceeded to lie about his side of the story, slandering the reporter in the process.) Coupled with some rather horrid comments passed about the general public and I can't shake the feeling that he's slowy gone from charming posh bloke to smug snobby celeb and that's a little sad.

    That said, public awareness of mental health related things is good, and having a familar (all be it a famous) face speak frankly about such things helps break the ice. People talking openly about this sort of thing is a good thing, and for me, that outweighs complications caused by celebrity.

  3. People listen to celebrities. Whether we like to admit it or not, we tend not to listen to our friends and family about mental health.

    "She's always been over-sensitive."
    "He's just being negative and needs to snap out of it."
    "She's a total drama queen."
    "Ignore him, he's just moaning like he's the only one who suffers."

    Most of assume we understand everyone around us better than they understand themselves, and tend to instruct rather than listen. I'm just as guilty of this as everyone else. However when someone famous sits and talks about their struggles with mental health we tend to sit and listen.

    Watching a video or reading and interview means we don't have to find a solution for this person; we just need to listen to their point of view. We might dismiss their words afterwards, but we still had to process what was said. We don't do that with our friends and family most of the time. We try to fix them and move on.

    There is a downside to relying on celebrities to raise these kind of issues, though. Often their experiences are taken as typical, when they can be anything but. My experience of postnatal depression, for example, was very different from the type usually shown by the media, and was different again from the ladies I met thruogh the support group. It is good if a celebrity speaks out about her experience of postnatal depression, but very bad if everyone assumes that is the only way it can manifest.It can actually be a quite dangerous assumption.

    Mental health is an issue that needs to be talked about, so I am glad that famous people are willing to discuss an issue that is often taboo. Having said that, it is up to the rest of us to continue the conversation they have begun, rather than letting their condition being treated as the only manifestation that can occur.