I read two blogposts this week which deal with the subject of depression and seeking help for mental health problems. They probably struck a particular chord with me as I am currently seeing a (very good) counsellor/therapist.
The first piece is by Reese Rants where she encouraged her readers to ‘turn off the negative soundtrack’ that often accompanies us when we are beset by anxiety and unhappiness. The second is by Sue George at her blog, Bisexuality and Beyond. She discusses recent research which suggests bisexual people suffer mental health problems in greater numbers than others, and don’t seek help enough.
Whilst I have substantive comments about both articles, there was one ‘superficial’ thing I couldn’t help but notice and explore first. Both bloggers illustrate their work with a photo of a young (white), naked, woman, sitting in a crouching position looking sad!
This reminds me of that meme that went round the internet recently, where someone had found a set of stock photos of women laughing alone with salad.
There are a number of possible reasons why Lucy Reese and Sue George chose the images they did. They are both women and so probably identify more closely with pictures of women looking depressed. But in relation to Sue’s piece, I would argue that bisexual men suffer more prejudice and biphobia than women (because it is less acceptable for men to experiment with same sex sex than for women. They immediately get labelled as ‘gay’). So some photos of (cute, naked?) men looking sad would be appropriate here.
But as a blogger myself, sometimes we just go for pictures we like. Pictures that we instinctively feel will enhance our words in an aesthetically pleasing way. And cute naked women certainly do that, I think the whole internetz would agree! Even when dealing with the most serious subjects, we have blog hits at the back of our minds. One woman even wrote a whole book based on this concept, called ‘Marketable Depression’!
I am also reminded here of Chumbawamba’s album, ‘Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records’. It was a stark reference to what I have since termed concern porn. When covering sensitive, difficult issues such as poverty or depression, the western media often can’t help but relish in the ‘voyeurism’ involved in looking at vulnerable people. There may be a tad of that in Sue and Lucy’s choice of imagery.
As something of an ‘aesthete’ and a ‘voyeur’ myself, whilst I do have a lot of problems with concern porn, I can’t help but wish people would choose better pictures to ‘concern’ over! How about this painting by Egon Schiele entitled ‘Kneeling Woman With Head Bent Forward’?
Or Van Gogh’s evocatively named ‘Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity)’?
You never know, paintings by accomplished artists might actually cheer some of us depressed readers up!
Maybe one of my ‘problems’ is that sometimes I treat mental health issues – my own and those of other people – in a flippant manner. I suspect my counsellor might call that a ‘coping mechanism’.
So this post is probably a window on my soul more than a proper criticism of the blogposts above.
However, beneath my facetious surface there lies some deep thought and struggle with issues of mental health and sexual identity.
When it came out earlier this year I criticised the Bisexuality Report that Sue refers to in her post. I was actually shocked that in 2012 bisexual people and academics were presenting bisexuality as somehow linked to mental illness! So under Sue’s post I made the following points:
‘I am not questioning the findings of the reports. But I am very unhappy with bi organisations promoting the idea that bisexual people suffer worse mental health than others.This is becausea) it falls into the ‘pathologising’ approach to sexuality that was so big in the 19th century when the ‘homosexual’ was presented as mentally ill.
b) it ignores how many people have same sex sex without ever recognising themselves as ‘bisexual’. What is their mental health like?
c) it makes out bisexuals to be a separate category distinct from gay, straight, trans, msms etc.
The thing I love most about bisexuality is it challenges the whole notion of fixed sexual identities
d) it is ‘depressing’! I am happy to campaign for better mental health services and access to services for bisexual people. But I am not happy to present bi people as prone to mental illness.
I myself do not identify as bi and I have had plenty of mental health problems in my life. But I dont have a ‘community’ to talk to. Not based on my sexual identity anyway.’
But please, if you think of me as providing a ‘negative soundtrack’ to the discussions on bisexuality and mental health, and if you want to respond to my points, don’t illustrate your response with a picture of a cute naked woman looking sad!