Mrs Laz Writes…
Our columnist ponders the mental health epidemic… and the changing nature of its portrayal on Saturday evening TV.
It’s mental health awareness week here in the UK. Those lucky enough to live Stateside get a whole month to ponder their encephalon.
Like every child of the 1970s and 80s, my understanding of mental health comes largely from Saturday evening TV show The A-Team. ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock is a guru when it comes to shining a light on it. Through his eyes, he’s guiding the viewer through a range of different mental health disorders and various states of mind.
Mental health professionals don’t want us to confuse mental health with mental illness, so we don’t mistake our mental ‘wellness journey’ with those who have an actual diagnosis. I think all this does is create stigma – a feeling that we don’t want to be associated with those who may suffer from official mental health problems. As if they are ‘Other’. Please, let The A-Team guide us here. Murdock is one of us. Let’s be real; we know we can’t fly out of a mission without Murdock manning the plane. One in four adults in America live with some form of mental illness, and one in five in the UK. With numbers like that why are we hell bent on disassociating ourselves from those who may be mentally unwell?
We don’t do this with physical illness. Those members of the British population (one in sixteen) affected by diabetes won’t furtively hide insulin injections to conceal their condition from others. And just like diabetics, some people’s mental conditions can be cured. But many will have to learn how to live with illness for the rest of their life. Bear in mind that it is perfectly possible to have good mental health and also have a mental illness.
Back to Murdock and what he’s given the world. We know a helicopter crash in Vietnam began his passage into mental ill health (opening our eyes to the ravaging effects of PTSD). Most episodes begin with The Face breaking Murdock out of a treatment facility; and Murdock often brings his latest imaginary friends and pets along with him to help him with the team’s capers. Murdock’s character is sensitively drawn. He’s often a figure of humour but not the butt of jokes – there’s a clear distinction. As a child, I was never made to feel afraid of what mental illness could entail largely because of Murdock.
But where I think we can learn lessons is not necessarily from Murdock himself. It’s from the rest of the A-Team, who treat their comrade with unflinching understanding and compassion. They never view him as anything other than a valid and resourceful, intelligent member of their elite squad. He is supported by the family of friends around him who help him cope without judgement, instead with care and humour, and most importantly never treat him as lesser. He just happens to be the one in four.
“But what about BA Baracus?” I hear you say? Yes, Mr T wrangles, like any sibling, with frustrations held against his brother Murdock that sometimes border on anger and annoyance. Perhaps it’s because he struggles with his own mental angsts, which he doesn’t like seeing reflected back at him. “I ain’t getting on no plane” are clearly the words of an intensely anxious man. He may have the strength to lift up a truck, but he has to be sedated before flying or he’ll reach a catatonic state. Let this be a lesson to us. Act like Mr T and we ain’t going nowhere with our mental health journey. We need to face up to whatever state we’re in, try and come to terms with it.
Some see westerns mental illness numbers as an epidemic. But really it’s the first time in history that we can fully recognise and classify different mental states effectively, so these numbers look like an increase. They’re not. We’ve all always been this mental. Mr T might have been before his time when it came to our understanding of sexuality (or is it just me that thinks that he has a gorgeous sexual fluidity about him?). I think he walked the tightrope of the sexual spectrum with ease and we need to learn to do the same with mental health.
This isn’t a disease that will worsen or spread. Mental health is about understanding our own ‘brain fitness’ as a continuum, that can rise and fall just as our physical health does. Sometimes we get sick. When Kanye sent tweets about his wife and mother-in-law (more on the Kardashian Klan later), it was clear to the world that this man was unwell. If he’d been in a car crash and was physically injured, we’d feel sorry for him. But if his head is suffering then we seek to ridicule, or worse to eradicate his voice as untrustworthy. It is clear that West’s extreme talent comes with a price. It’s curious though that we can’t be more accepting of the whole of his brain. Let’s relax a bit about definitions, and respect the sliding scale that is our mental state. A place where we can have a bit more fun with it, rather than be so scared and reverential. Where things are a bit more A-Team.
My Mitford and Kardashian Mind Map
I’ve had to cancel my ‘likes and loves’ column this month in order to help you navigate these virtually identical, impossibly famous sister-tastic families. You’re welcome.
Kim K and Jessica Mitford are both almost civil rights lawyers. They’ve both got massive arses. Or is that just Kim? They’re both communists.
Kris Jenner and Nancy Mitford are Momagers. It was Nancy who really crafted the Mitford brand through her novels, making the girls lives seem glamorous, adventurous and all together over the top. KJ, ibid.
They have a brother. Yes, who knew?! Both the Ks and the Ms have a total non for a brother. One had a baby with a stripper; one died in Burma. Same, same.
They love a letter. Instagram/letter; same, same.
One brought Justin Bieber’s house, one lived at Chatsworth. Again, that’s too close to call.
Fascists. Yes did I not mention the fascism? Unity took a revolver to her head because she was so in love with Hitler. He was a charmer after all. Makes Kim K and Donald Trump’s political alignment look positively pretty.
Paris living, Paris kidnapping, dairy farming, daddy issues, Dominic West and Lily James, piglets for table centre-pieces and face contouring. That’s really everything else you need to know.
But if you need to know more watch the brilliantly witty, moving and fresh, The Pursuit of Love BBC/Amazon Studios. KKWTK series 20, ibid.