Joshua Barlow: Why throwaway bile of Katie Hopkins is an insult to mentally ill

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I PUBLISHED an open letter last week to Katie Hopkins, a former contestant on The Apprentice, regarding her tweets about depression. Since then, it has been viewed over half a million times.

In a series of tweets discussing the Germanwings plane crash in Switzerland, The Sun columnist said: “To be diagnosed with depression is the holy grail of illnesses for many. The ultimate passport to self obsession. Get a grip people.”

The 40-year-old is notorious for saying things that get people riled up and normally I choose not to comment on her problematic statements.

However, this was something I could not ignore having experienced my own mental health issues – it is not as simple as just “getting a grip”.

I may be young at 22, but mental health issues can strike anyone at any time, no matter who they are, and affect an estimated one in four people a year – that’s roughly 16 million people within the UK.

Many believe that Katie spouts her opinions as a cry for attention much like when a dog defecates for the attention of its owner, which ironically is a form of separation anxiety.

I was not surprised that Katie chose those with depression as her next target. Having already said things about “fat” people, and made other derogatory comments, I knew it would only be a matter of time before mental health issues became the next issue she decided to lambast.

As I said in my letter: “Unfortunately this is not the Big Brother house so you cannot be voted out and we cannot turn you down as you did to Lord Alan Sugar – because, like a bad smell you return to fill the nose of society with your stench.”

Katie may state her opinions in a throwaway manner, but, the things she says have very real implications for those with mental health issues.

Not only does such bigotry promote mental health stigma, it also potentially inflames any internalised issues that someone with mental health issues may have – leading to many things including self-loathing and suicide.

Some of the comments received on my letter show just how much Katie’s comments upset the friends and relatives of those whose depression led them to suicide – to Katie it was a tweet, to these people it was an insult to someone’s memory.

Katie Hopkins’ statements about mental health have struck a chord with many other people, especially her comments about dementia patients who she called “bed blockers”.

Football pundit Robbie Savage, whose father died of dementia aged 63, clashed with Katie over her “stupid naïve” comments and said that her comments had left him and his mother in tears.

He was not alone. George McNamara, head of policy and public affairs for the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “The comments reinforce the stereotype that sadly prevents many people with dementia from feeling like valued members of society”.

This can also be applied to her comments about depression. If you state that someone can “get a grip”, then it implies that the issues they face are not genuine.

The hypocrisy of this woman’s statements astonishes me. I find the suggestion that depression is the “ultimate passport to self obsession” laughable because if Katie’s tweets are anything to go by, she should seek immediate help.

Being a writer for the biggest paper in the UK, her opinions have the potential to reach and influence an inordinate amount of people – roughly 2.5 million if The Sun’s circulation figures and Katie’s Twitter following are combined.

This position could be used positively to make a difference in the field of mental health by highlighting what a solitary and damaging disease depression is rather than insulting a quarter of the population. The phrase, “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar”, springs to mind.

As a journalism student in my final year, I have been taught to use my training as a voice for the public, to shout out for those who can’t and hold to account those who need to be held accountable – which is why I initially wrote my open letter.

Soon after the letter was published, I was inundated with emails, messages and tweets from people with depression thanking me for showing them that there is someone fighting in their corner.

Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain and can be caused by a multitude of reasons – for some people it is triggered by events while some develop the condition for no reason at all.

Stick to economics and business, Katie. Leave depression and mental health with those of us who carry Primark bags. After all, you said depression is “like being caught in torrential rain with a bag from Primark” – I doubt you shop there.

This is not you taking a stand against political correctness – this is you creating mess to gain attention and “we” are bored of cleaning it up.

Joshua Barlow is a final year journalism student at Sheffield Hallam University. He tweets at @joshrobertxo.