A short, and not particularly sweet, post.
Just over a fortnight ago, on February 1st, I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference on the media portrayal of mental health,thanks to the conference organisers, Social Spider and One in Four magazine, the super aspirational lifestyle mag for those of us with mental health difficulties who don't define ourselves that way (OK, they let me write an article for them so I'm biased in thinking their content's fab). I was speaking as a writer and blogger who's bipolar and has written about mental health issues fairly uncompromisingly as well as using it as the painful heart for some of my creative work (see the previous entry).
Also speaking was the BBC's head of diversity, who spent much of her time being roundly praised (and rightly so) for the BBC's handling of the Stacey Slater bipolar storyline, a superb, amazingly acted portrayal of the horror and unglamorousness of living with this crippling illness.
Two weeks late I feel kicked in the teeth.
Who killed Archie? The bipolar nutjob. Of course. And if you really think people are too nuanced to see it like that, try searching twitter for "bipolar".
I have personal experience of the ridiculous myth that associates bipolar with axe(or bust)-wielding violence (in the form of a particularly hurtful jibe from a work colleague who should have known better). This ludicrous association keeps many out of jobs in the first place, sees us muttered and giggled about, accused, victimised, bullied, without considering the damage it does to our already vulnerable health - or to society as a whole.
Then along comes Eastenders and does a great job of breaking some of that down. Which is why it feels like so much of a betrayal to have this done to us. Better to have done nothing at all! Sure, maybe they're going to use it as a kicking-off point for a HUGE debate that breaks the bipolar/violence connection once and for all. Maybe not :p Maybe it's too late anyway.
Just consider this. In the 70s and 80s black actors were cast as baddies in the media at a time when much opinion on race relations was disgustingly backward. Sure there was no direct statement of causality, just as the BBC didn't say Stacey's illness made her kill Archie. But such casting is easy for us to see as reprehensible, revolting, and doing nothing but contribute to preposterous racial stereotyping. I'm not saying things have got better or worse as far as the way we handle race is concerned, but here's the thing - people will say "but it's obvious those casting decisions were wrong, what are you talking about with mental health, no one's implying a connection" and they genuinely won't see their illogic. And in a way the BBC's unawareness that they've done anything wrong is more worrying than malice - it shows just how ignorant we still are - and will remain as long as such stereotyping persists.
Shame on the BBC; shame on the head of diversity who smiled and talked and took our praise. I am ashamed and embarrassed to have shared a platform with you.