Yesterday I read an article in London's morning Metro newspaper (http://tinyurl.com/c49c67) that deeply disturbed me. The story was about how someone on Facebook had created a "Gift" application on Facebook where users of Facebook gave "gifts" of mental illnesses to their "friends," complete with offensive, ridiculous photos of sufferers and fake, kitschy "advice" about the mental problems, which included Shizophrenia, Dementia and Agoraphobia.
I was shocked and angry.
And I was sad.
Obviously I don't know how many people out there are still poorly informed about the severity of mental illness (and how painful it is not only to the sufferers, but to the family and friends of the sufferers), but I'm guessing by the existence of the application that it's a lot.
Just look at the [mostly American] media for a hint - American entertainment writers, editors and producers just LOVE to carelessly label anyone in the news (particularly celebrities) with some type of mental illness. Let's take two totally random examples: When Britney Spears partied a little TOO hard, shaved her head and poked a photographer with an umbrella, she wasn't called a spoiled, drunk celebrity, she was labeled Bipolar - not by a doctor, but by the MEDIA. When Nicole Ritchie looked more thin than the usual - and quite common - size zero girl in Hollywood, the MEDIA (not a doctor) proclaimed her Anorexic.
What can ya do? The blood-sucking media knows a mental illness combined with a celebrity name sells papers, magazines, TV specials and often increases the box office gross of feature films. I know this. I lived with a People magazine entertainment writer for years, and knew quite a few more who wrote for other publications. They LIVE for dirty garbage like that. I personally worked in film publicity, where even a story about an actor's mental problems was often considered GOOD, because hey - as they still say - "any publicity is good publicity."
Of course there are many famous people who have openly and honestly discussed their mental health issues. Drew Barrymore admits having made a suicide attempt at age 14. Halle Berry did the same after her first marriage. Ben Stiller and Sting are both open about being Bipolar. Owen Wilson tried to kill himself for unidentified reasons. Alanis Morissette suffered from Depression. Princess Diana famously had Bulimia and Borderline Personality Disorder. Francis Ford Coppola has Bipolar Disorder. Marilyn Monroe was institutionalized for Depression and "Manic Depression" before she eventually killed herself. Audrey Hepburn battled Depression. So did musician Dave Matthews and politicians Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. (Now who says people with mental illnesses aren't intelligent, productive members of society?)
But I digress...
Upon further inspection of the Facebook application, I was further dismayed to find that a female named Kathryn Scruggs from AMERICA had created the Facebook "Gift" application. Building on the dismay was the fact that Facebook itself would make no comment on the application. Facebook didn't have the balls to address it, and would not make any public move to discourage Ms. Scruggs from maintaining the application. The media coverage of the story simply said: "Facebook was unavailable for comment, however its website states it does not monitor applications created by individual members."
Before you comment, let me say YES, I understand freedom of speech. And YES, I understand that especially in America people have the freedom to post whatever they want on the internet. But when a corporate giant like Facebook (yes, even though it's free, Facebook is indeed a global, corporate money-maker) allows harmful, discriminatory material to remain on their site after media coverage and public protest, I think it has a duty to do something - even if that "something" is just a stinkin' one-sentence COMMENT.
I have been deeply affected by mental illness in my lifetime. I have watched close friends behave like uneducated, insensitive and intolerant a-holes in the face of knowing someone with a mental disorder. I have been bullied, laughed at, lost jobs and been coldly dumped in hours of great need due to a lack of understanding and support. Just a few months ago I had an exchange where an old friend threw the word "Bipolar" around as if it were any old adjective. I had always considered her an intelligent and open individual. I don't feel that way about her anymore.
When starting to write this entry I meant to make it simple and short, to slam Facebook and expose the girl who created the sick application on that site, but obviously I've written too much, so I'll end a bit abruptly with a thank you to the people who shamed Ms. Scruggs into removing the application from the internet yesterday. If you try to find it today, it will be gone - with no thanks to Facebook, but with great thanks to people like Nita K., who when others are complacent, steps up and says something.
I hope if any of you ever want to stand up and say something, you will too, when given the opportunity. Even if it's just mentioning to a friend that it's NOT cool to say your boss is Schizophrenic or your ex-girlfriend is Bipolar.
Don't be the problem. Be the solution.
I'm sliding my proverbial soapbox under the proverbial bed for a while now. PLEASE DO COMMENT HERE IF YOU WANT.
If you live in England, visit www.time-to-change.org.uk to learn some facts on this topic. If you live in America, visit www.nami.org to educate yourself. As they say, knowledge is power.