Is Piers Morgan Right about Mental Health?

Piers Morgan recently suggested in a tweet that we need to 'man up' when it comes to mental health. This was in response to an article that highlighted the growing problems and the estimation that over 34 million of us are mentally ill.

He clearly believes that a lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon here, and appear to be mistaking the natural stresses of daily life with clinical mental health issues.

The internet went crazy and it's safe to say that a lot of people didn't share his views.

I actually found myself agreeing with him, but I'd appreciate it if you could read this entire article before you make a judgement. There is clearly a problem here, and I'd like to explain why.

If you've read my work and have taken a good look at the site you'd probably expect me to be loudly condemning him. I'm not though, as I have some strong opinions about this subject that I take very seriously.

Despite the fact that I may agree with Piers Morgan though, I'm very worried about these sort of public statements. Will people in authority read this and then make a judgement that seriously impacts someones life?

I think that most of the problems here are essentially created by two sets of people, those making frivolous claims and the ones making definitive judgements without any sort of medical training.

They are also the people we need to focus on before we can make things better.

Before we begin though, I think it's best to take a mindful approach to the situation. We need to accept that we are unlikely to change a lot of these people's views, but that shouldn't stop us trying.

Let's start by looking at the people who are claiming that they are mentally ill. 

If I'm starting to sound a little dispassionate here, you may want to take a look at my previous article, How The Simplicity System Can Help You Deal with Stress and Anxiety as it will explain my approach. I also hold the opinion that like being an entrepreneur, it's a title that other people really need to give you.

I think it's down to medical professionals to diagnose mental illness and this in itself should encourage anyone struggling to seek help.

This isn't to say that all people who self-diagnose have an agenda or seek attention. It shouldn't be encouraged though in my option and I can think of a great example why.

I remember how suicide became sensationalised following the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994. It seemed that it was 'cool' to be depressed at the time and anyone with a basic knowledge of psychology will know how worrying this is.

It really doesn't help anyone if mental illness becomes fashionable.

I don't think anyone can deny that it's becoming a serious problem. It's also something that's going to really cost us in future as well, and I'm not sure our health service can cope.

In the Facebook age, it seems like it's something people will use to get attention. These people are also likely to have their feeds full of similar cries for help for help as well.

The younger generation also seem to be bombarded with suggestions that they can achieve anything they want if they simply believe in themselves, so enviable failure is likely to be viewed as the end of the road rather than a helpful life lesson. I think you only have to watch shows like The X Factor to see this for yourself, as very few of the contestants appear to be aware of the hard work required to succeed and seem to expect results by just showing up.

In this culture, even the smallest things are likely to be viewed as a major crisis.  

For me, it's particularly important that we do everything we can to address this, as it's so easy to let our modern, connected way of life get us down.

I think it starts by doing everything we can to help ourselves and set an example. If you've taken a look through the site, you'll see that I've presented a lot of ideas of how we can improve our mental health, change the way we view ourselves and more importantly, take proactive steps before it becomes a problem.

It's all there, it's fairly easy to do and all it requires is an open mind and the willingness to adopt some effective practices.  If we take this approach we should all benefit, as we should be able to set an example and reduce the need for treatment.

I don't think it would harm people to pause and consider their situation either, as a lot of things that people define as problems really aren't that bad in the grand scheme of things.

Going back to Piers Morgan's tweet, I do agree that a lot of people need to 'man up', put things in perspective, stop making excuses and simply get to work on changing their situation.

You never know what other people are going through either, so I think it would help if some people took a second to consider this before they complain. It's always important to make it clear that if any of this doesn't work, it's time to seek professional help. I'd just encourage people to take a proactive role in their recovery if they're ever in this situation though.

If this all seems a bit harsh, just take a moment to think about the people who really do have serious problems and may not get the help they need due to people 'crying wolf'.

Like Piers Morgan, I appreciate that it's essential to point out that no one with a diagnosed mental illness should ever be told to man up, or indeed be placed under any kind of scrutiny by anyone who isn't qualified to do so.

This leads me to another one of his tweets, where I'm not so sympathetic.

Piers Morgan made quite a definitive statement regarding Will Young's claim that he has been diagnosed with PTSD and I personally feel this is unacceptable. Despite whatever inside knowledge he may have or that fact that it was presented as a joke, I don't think he should make this sort of statement unless he has evidence that it wasn't the case.

How many managers will see this and think they can make the same assertions about their staff?

So now we've looked at the people who are claiming they are mentally ill, let's look at the people who deal with them. This is the group I really want to influence and it's up to all of us to work hard to change people's opinions out there.

Before we begin, I'd like you to just take a second and imagine how terrible it would be if you had a phsyical or mental illness and people openly disputed your integrity. Worse still, they could be forcing you to do things you know aren't possible.

People seem to expect everything to be clearly labelled these days and for doctors to be able to confidently explain any health issue and be completely infallible. Macho work cultures don't help people either, where the bizarre definition of high performance may lead some to believe that illness will only stop people if they let it.

In the same way that most judges surely have to acquit people who they are sure are guilty based on a lack of evidence, we can't afford to act on opinions and gut feelings given the consequences or wrongly accusing someone who's innocent.

Are the benefits of exposing someones potential dishonestly worth the risk of essentially torturing someone? Is it right to really make these judgements if you don't have compelling evidence?

All I ask is that you think very carefully about this is you ever find yourself judging someones capacity or their statements about themselves.

We should also pause for a moment to consider why we may be a little prejudiced. I personally think the repressed, post-war 'stiff upper lip' approach to mental health we often find in the UK is very unhelpful. I honestly thinks it's fair to say that a lot of people fear mental health issues and probably consider it a sign of weakness.

If you look at psychology and nature, you could probably argue that we're hard-wired to push away from health issues as well.

Although I'm not a fan of this cold, detached approach, and I'm sure that it leads to a lot of problems behind the scenes, I don't think the current culture of openly complaining is much better. It's clear to me that we need to find a balance and it's up to us all to make this happen.

I actually have an example from my own life where a more stoic approach helped me though a very tough situation. 

In 1999, I was mourning the loss of a close friend who had been lost in a senseless accident. It was incredibly hard to deal with but soon after, I visited a customer at his home to deliver a keyboard he had brought in the store I worked in. 

I immediately noticed a model of a World War 2 Mosquito that was prominently displayed in his home and being an aviation buff, I had to enquire about it. He was very impressed that I had identified that it was deployed in the Far East, given its camouflage and markings, and he went on to explain how he had flown them during the war.

He had done a lot at a young age, but one story seemed to resonate with him as he described the loss of his entire squadron during a sneak attack. He explained how insurgents had installed anti-aircraft guns close to their runway and he only escaped by quickly manoeuvring onto the grass to escape it. His friends and comrades weren't so lucky though, but he had to keep fighting.

This really put things into perspective for me. I had lost one friend but this man had pretty much lost all his close friends and simply had to carry on. His other stories about the war were also inspiring as he played a leading role when the Japanese surrendered. 

This encounter gave me a lot of strength and inspired me to move forwards. I couldn't complain to this man and it suddenly became clear that a lot of people had encountered far worse situations in their own lives.

I faced a similar situation during my own neurological illness when I visited the Neurology Department at the hospital. I was in a very bad way, but I came across people in a far worse condition than me and it was always likely that I would significantly recover from my condition.

I've kept this with me and have always felt that I owed it to these people to take a positive approach to my situation and be mindful that it could be a lot worse. 

I honestly hope this comes through in my work and that people can see the benefits of this approach.

Another helpful example from my own life is when I came across someone at a social gathering openly complaining about the way their parents had treated them when they were younger and the effect it had had on their life. I was a bit surprised because this person had only just met the people they were sat with and if I'm honest, nothing they referenced sounded that bad compared to the things I know other people have to deal with.

They had clearly created a very negative narrative around their life though and obviously needed external validation for this poor, unfortunate character that had chosen to play.

The worst thing about this encounter was that two of the people sitting next to them had just lost their son. In the grand scheme of things, someone not liking the way their father had spoken to them decades ago was obviously insignificant compared to what they were going through. They were very polite, and clearly knew this person wasn't aware of their situation, but I can only imagine what they felt about all of this.

The lesson here is clear, if you choose to complain there's a good chance the other people will be facing far worse situations in their own lives.

I genuinely think that a lot of people have lost their perspective and it's not a good thing. Depending on who's looking at you, we could all be living in heaven and hell and that's all exaggerated in the connected world we live in.

As I've said before, we need to run our own race and focus on what's important. In closing, I'd just like to sum up what I feel is the best approach towards mental health.

Piers Morgan on Mental Health

The most important thing, like Piers Morgan points out, is to separate a clinical mental health issue, like depression or bipolar disorder, from the stress and anxiety created by our modern lifestyles.  

If it is clinical, you need to take the medical route but if not, there are things you can do about it. I appreciate that it's difficult, but I honestly think people need to take responsibility and be proactive.

I don't mean for any of this to sound dispassionate, it's just that I'm honestly concerned about the increasing reliance on medication and seeking external validation to tackle stress and anxiety. 

If you're not sure about this, I invite you to take a good look around this site as I have plenty of suggestions for you. Simply changing the way you view your life, distancing yourself from your thoughts and feeling and altering the way you behave, and in turn altering the way you feel, can make a huge difference.

To sum it up, it's down to us as individuals to make a difference. We need to make sure that we're not 'crying wolf' for attention and taking it way from someone who really needs it. We also need to start helping ourselves and show other people how to do it as well.

The main thing I'd like you to take away from this though is an appreciation that your prejudice and unqualified judgements could have a devastating effect on people's lives.

Going back to Piers Morgan, I have to conclude that I'm far more concerned about people 'crying wolf' and making it harder for people to get the help they need than his complaints about them. Like all things in life, it's really about finding the right balance and it's up to us all to take responsibility and make a difference.

Image: Piers Morgan 2011 by Pete Riches licensed under CC BY 2.0