Nadia Whittome and the stigma around mental health

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Nadia Whittome, the youngest member of the British Parliament, recently announced that she has been ‘battling some persistent health issues’ – an announcement that was greeted with condescending comments from her peers. She has revealed that she was specifically suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although she attempted to further remove the stigma surrounding mental health, her efforts were only partially accepted, with many rather viewing her health issue as a rather trivial excuse.

Typically, PTSD is haunted by its association with the military, with many soldiers suffering from shell shock in World War 1 and World War 2, an association that many continue to uphold. The political blogger Paul ‘Guido Fawkes’, who runs a ‘rumour and gossip’ page, satirically commented that ‘Parliament may be daunting though nothing akin to the trenches of the First World War’, confirming this association. Aside from his lacking sympathy, he ignorantly dismisses the circumstances of Nadia’s diagnosis. 

Instead, he instantly makes assumptions – this assumption is that because Nadia has not been fighting in a world war, she cannot acquire PTSD. He further adds to this, saying that ‘the shells lobbed on social media may ruin your day, they don’t kill’, again dismissing the validity of Nadia’s mental health. As the metaphorical ‘shells’ of ‘social media’ ‘don’t kill’, these ‘shells’ being online hate, her mental health issues are not valid as they are not literal ‘shells’ in the war. By comparing the events in Parliament to the events in war, he suggests that her mental health is something to be disregarded, to be brushed away at the expense of past associations of PTSD. 

Many fail to acknowledge Nadia’s service during the coronavirus pandemic

The news outlet, The Times, has further contributed to this association. Publishing an article about her temporary leave from Parliament, they included their subscriber’s condescending comments which reflect the same level of ignorance as ‘Fawkes’. One comment stated, ‘any PTSD she probably has is from spending too much time courting attention on social media. Her constituents deserve better’, another saying ‘has she just defended her office from an attack of terrorists? Why the PTSD?’. Again, both views associate PTSD with war events and therefore undermine the seriousness of Nadia’s mental health. If this mindset is maintained, the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, in particular PTSD, will never be removed.

This is a dangerous fallacy – an outdated association that must be updated. Currently, the coronavirus pandemic that has interrupted our lives for a year and a half now has come with many traumatising events, many of which can trigger the development of PTSD. This risk is increased for the doctors, nurses, and care workers sacrificing their lives on the front line, a blatant fact these news outlets and bloggers have ignored. 

Many fail to acknowledge Nadia’s service during the coronavirus pandemic – she was a care worker in a retirement village, where the tragic increase in deaths from Covid-19 inevitably catalysed her mental decline. Seeing the elderly pass away, many of whom she may have formed close relationships with, is an experience enough to plunge one into a cycle of trauma. It is not because of the ‘heat of politics’ or the ‘attention’ from ‘social media’ that she had to temporarily step away from her role in Parliament, but because of her courageous work during the pandemic that left her scarred. 

Rather than judging the worthiness of PTSD cases based on outdated associations, the stigma surrounding mental health should be removed

Instead of associating PTSD with world wars, these news outlets and commentators should instead educate themselves on the widespread causes of PTSD. Take this analogy. You are standing in a field full of an abundance of flowers. Although you may just admire the sunflowers that stand proud and ignore the daisies and weeds that grow below them, regardless, the daises and weeds are still there. They still grow from the same ground the sunflowers do. 

The same is happening here. Unfortunately, news outlets and commentators are only focusing on the sunflowers, the associations of PTSD with world wars, over the daises and weeds that represent the other causes of PTSD, in this case, the pandemic. Yet, both causes originate from the same grounds – the development of PTSD. Hence, the only way to remove this ignorance is to give worth to all the flowers and weeds in the field. 

Rather than judging the worthiness of PTSD cases based on outdated associations, the stigma surrounding mental health should be removed, a removal that will only happen through raising awareness. All the flowers in the field must be acknowledged and appreciated – an appreciation will make Nadia’s mental issues valid.

Image: Martin Nowak via Unsplash

One thought on “Nadia Whittome and the stigma around mental health

  • —the stigma surrounding mental health

    Is a trained prejudice, it requires both a trainer and people willing to accept it. Curiously enough there is no dearth of either.

    Harold A Maio

    Reply

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