If you are in the public eye there are often many calls upon your time and name. It is, quite literally, impossible to accede to every demand that comes one’s way, just in terms of patronage of societies or positions on their boards and committees, let alone agreeing to the numerous requests for public appearances, tweets, retweets and bloggings.
So I have to make choices. Many years ago I decided to devote time to the Terrence Higgins Trust, Europe’s largest HIV/AIDS charity and busier now than it has ever been. I had reason enough, with friends dying in the 1980s, to align myself there. I have had experiences on my travels with wildlife conservation that have made it natural to accept a position as Vice President of Fauna and Flora International. There are other causes close to my heart because of their connections to the part of the country I grew up in or the passions that I pursue. To that end I’ve already written about the pleasure I derive from being a trustee of the Royal Academy and a director of Norwich City Football Club and I felt no less pride when asked to take over from Lord Attenborough last year as Chairman of the Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly.
Just when I thought I had committed myself enough in all directions, along came the letter from Melvyn. He gave fifteen years of his life in service to MIND and they could have had no more passionate, purposeful or persuasive advocate. I was happy to accept therefore, giving only the warning that my life takes me all over the place and that I cannot ever pledge to be present at every board meeting or gathering that so busy and far-reaching an organisation as MIND is likely to want me at. They seem, thank goodness to understand that.
Not a poster child….
I hope too, that it is understood by others, that while I appreciate and recognise entirely why so many people email and tweet me about their own mental health issues it is a little difficult sometimes being considered the public face of an affliction like bipolar disorder. I felt proud to be able to make those programmes about it, and I will continue when and where I can to try and address as much as anything the stigma and the lack of diagnosis that can make a hard condition harder, but it is not easy receiving so much mail, so much twitter traffic and having so many souls asking for advice, wondering how I am, seeking guidance on coping mechanisms for themselves or even requesting long distance diagnosis for themselves or others.
I sincerely do understand why people might want to, but in the end it’s a disorder that at its worst is very serious and which, when I am lucky enough to be stable, I’d rather not constantly be reminded about, quizzed about, nudged about. I know it’s foolish and ungracious to complain and I do understand why I am so commonly asked questions on the subject, even though it is a little like having lemon-juice dropped on a fresh cut.
Mental health is one of the last great taboos. I will do my best with MIND as they, along with others in the sector, fight hard against the injustice, ignorance, stigma and indifference which still threaten society’s own good mental health. Where I can use the example of my own experiences I naturally will, but not at the risk of driving myself to the brink…
For those with a problem …
I can only end with this plea. If you think you have a mental health problem, see a doctor. Don’t write to me, I really am not qualified! There are plenty of sites out there filled with advice and links to sites where you might find people with similar issues, MIND’s own site is as good a place to start as I know.
If you do see a doctor and feel they are fobbing you off, do not allow it or stand for it. Insist upon your right to see another physician. Explain your symptoms as clearly and as honestly as you can – in terms of yourself and how you feel, not in terms of how you think others see you or how the world may or may not view you. A doctor who does not listen, counsel and suggest an approach to treatment is not worthy of their licence. But I’m afraid to have to tell you that such is current state of medical science, a lot of the work will have to be done by you. There are no magic bullets, either in drug or any other form, and it is a long journey that may involve mood diaries, changes in diet, exercise and sleep patterns and all kinds of solutions that are harder than a pill, a powder or a pint.