Mocking Mental Heath Disorders

Some days I fear for the future of a country where the most educated and liberal lack empathy for the disabled. Today someone tagged me on facebook alerting me to an article published in the express tribune today. Because they have removed the article, I am putting screen captures of it as well as the comments.

Headline says lock up the crazy, like we don’t deserve the right to live a life the way “normal” people do. I wonder if the writer knows about the history of mental health disorders and how, for most of human existence, people did just that: “lock up the crazy”. Because society chose not to understand us, they shunned us and put us away, as if we were invisible. And this still exists today in Pakistan. The way we treat mental health patients is appalling and inhumane. The last thing we need is for people to advocate that we deserve to be locked up, even as a “joke”. Some things are just not funny and one necessarily has to lack a sense of humanity to think they are, such as the suffering associated with mental illness.

The evidence provided by the author was the DSM IV, a google book, which was published in 2000. Surely a more current statistic could have been found? Furthermore, the figure seems inflated. I wonder if the author would be kind enough to direct me to the page number where she find this statistic for I can’t find it, nor do I have the time or patience to go through this whole thing to find it.

I also wonder where the author discovered that the above celebrities were sociopaths. Were they diagnosed or is she making a guess? If so, is she simply speculating or making a wild guess? What evidence can she provide other than her own analysis.

Also, please note the language. The author refers to those of us who have mental health issues as “the crazies”. I know I’m not alone in saying that it is offensive, demeaning and rather insensitive to choose this phrase to describe people suffering from illnesses that can be extremely distressing. There are so many people who would like to talk about their plight in public but they don’t because people get away with calling them “crazy” to their face and demeaning them. In the same paragraph, the author uses the words “loco” and “kookoo-ness” as well.

Where to begin with this one… let’s start with the fact that it seems like the writer is racist when she says that Angelina Jolie created “her own little army of coloured kids”. I feel like telling the writer: by kissing her brother, Jolie may have committed incest and you want to declare it offends you then please do so. However, do not assume that incest and bipolar disorder are related.

I am bipolar. I have written about it and come out with it publicly. There are so many celebrities who are actually diagnosed with bipolar disorder who could have been used an example such as Stephen Fry who has made a documentary on what it’s like to be bipolar. Jolie was a ridiculous example because she has never declared herself bipolar and speculating that she is without solid medical evidence is weak reporting.

I also find it offensive that Jolie, first declared bipolar, is then portrayed as a stereotypical “home wrecker”. There is no connection.

Isn’t Meera Jee’s twitter account fake? And weren’t tribune the first to tell us that?

I’m not letting this slide simply because it has been removed because it causes a lot of damage. It triggered me. After reading it, I was crying with rage and I was not alone. There were others with mental health problems who felt horrible, almost punched in the gut. Perhaps this is because we expect better from tribune, but that’s not relevant. What’s relevant is that this piece caused a lot of human suffering and no apologies can make up for the distress many of us felt. I would like to know why this was even allowed to go into print. What is tribune’s editorial policy regarding mental health issues? Does it even exist? If not, then perhaps now is the time to consider one.

I’m not advocating that the writer, Saba Khalid, be fired. But I would like to know if anyone has even reprimanded her or asked her to get some sensitivity training. I’m not going to be judgemental and declare her a racist or someone insensitive to mental health issues. To declare that she should be deprived of her job would make me as bad as the kind of people who advocate that mental health patients be locked up. I want to be better than them.

I want answers. I demand answers. Here is an email I sent to the author, the editors and the life & style desk:

Dear editors and Ms Khalid,

As a person who has bipolar disorder, I found this piece to be in extremely poor taste and I was very upset to read it. I am quite sure that none of you have any idea just how badly people with mental health disorders are treated. It took me 6 years to come out with mine in public, which I did as a blog post on dawn and it was the hardest thing I have ever written. You see, we, the “crazies” as Saba so kindly calls us, are treated quite horribly and mocking us makes things even worse for us.

After reading your piece, I was crying with rage and extremely angry that Pakistan has an educated and liberal class of people who think it’s ok to mock mental health disorders. I would never do so for I was raised by people who taught me that making fun of disabilities is inherently cruel. Picking on the weakest, the most disenfranchised and the disabled is bullying. Furthermore, it shows a severe lack of empathy for the plight of those who suffer from life long disabilities, like me.

I hesitate to tell you I was crying with rage for I fear that may have been your goal: to reduce those of us with mental health disorders to emotional wrecks so we stay away from society. You are, after all, advocating for us to be locked up.

I have a few questions that many people would like answered. I’m hoping you have the courage to reply to a bipolar person since, I’m assuming, you want to believe I’m a knife wielding lunatic who will come kill you. After all, you have asked people to have me locked me. The ignorance amazes me.

  1. Why was this approved? Is it because it’s funny to make fun of the “crazies” as you so sensitively call us? Because it’s ok to pick on the weak & disabled?
  2. Did you assume that people with mental health disabilities wouldn’t object because you know that most of us are too scared to publicly admit we have a disorder?
  3. What evidence does the writer have that these celebs have the mental health disorder she claims? Can I please be provided with the evidence that was used for this piece because it seems like speculation.
  4. Did you speak to any mental health specialists who confirmed you were right?
  5. Do you actually not realise that there is a big difference between drug/alcohol addiction & other mental health disorders?
  6. Are you qualified to write about mental health disorders? And do editors allow just anyone to write about mental health issues? Do you not realise why that is problematic?

I realise the piece has been removed but I still expect an answer and there are many who are demanding answers. I’m asking because I subscribe to tribune and read it daily. One of the main reasons I do so is because it has less triggers for me than most other papers. (Don’t know what trigger is? In that case you shouldn’t have been allowed to comment on mental health issues!) In order to live a “normal” life, I need to avoid triggers and if tribune is going to become a trigger, I need to unsubscribe. Unless tribune can assure those of us with mental health issues that we will not be mocked, we would not like to read it.

I realise that your ideal solution would be to lock me away from the world but that’s not an option. That’s not an option because my doctors and family believe that I can live a full, “normal” life if they support me. And guess what? They are right!

I also wonder where your moral center lies. In a country where rapists are running around free, where murders roam the street without fear, where men subject women to the worse form of violence, you are advocating that, instead, we lock up people with mental health issues. It greatly upsets me.

Looking forward to hearing from you but greatly fearing that no one will bother replying to a “crazy” who should be “locked up” since I assume that means I should be denied all internet access so that I can’t distress the “normal” world.


Nabiha Meher

I am well aware that my email is strongly worded and may even come across as emotional. So be it. This is an emotional issue, one that lead to this status update on facebook by my friend Adnan Ahmad: “Dear Express Tribune, When writing *anything* that references mental health, please try to research and vet what you’ve been handed. This is not the 19th century, nor is this the early 20th Century. Malicious mockery of health conditions of which you obviously have no clue about is not funny, nor has it *ever* been. It is mean-spirited, uneducated, and I look forward to the shit-storm that this, and other articles of an equally tabloid nature, will hopefully bring about.”

These are questions that need to be asked and I wrote this email with input from other people with mental health disorders. If the authorities at tribune really do not want to alienate readers with mental health disorders, then we deserve answers.

UPDATE: Express Tribune has issued an apology BUT I honestly believe it is not enough. Is it really too much for me to ask what happened to the writer? I am especially irked that no one is answering this question and I know they will answer IF enough people ask them to.

I’ve also been tweeting Bilal Lakhani, the owner of the publication who, from what I can tell, seems to be very open to ideas. I must add here that I personally find Tribune’s prompt responses quite amazing, especially in a country where most media owners only care for ratings. Kudos to them.

Tribune also seems to be open to training their staff regarding mental health issues. I am incredibly happy to hear such a positive response. This speaks volumes: it says we care about mental health issues. They are not trivial.

Because of this whole fiasco, I have decided that this is something I need to consider doing on a regular basis. My doctor’s words ring in my ear: “you are a success story”. As a success story, I have the power to make a difference. As a person who is willing to speak up in public about what it is like to be bipolar, I feel like I should try and reach out to as many people as I can so that others lives are made better. If there’s anything I learn on an almost daily basis, it is this: this country desperately needs mental health awareness.

We live in trying times. We live in a war torn land, at war with itself, at war with everyone else, never at ease, always craving for a peace that never comes. Depression rates are off the charts and thanks to our love for inbreeding, mental health problems exist in numbers higher than we want to believe. There is no one I know who hasn’t been effected.

There are so many people out there who are unwilling to speak up and “educate” others about our illnesses and I do not blame them. I do not blame them because of the incredibly horrible judgement that comes along with admitting one has a mental illness. One necessarily has to develop very thick skin in order to deal with it and not everyone can, nor should everyone have to.

So I’m now brainstorming ideas on what to do and how to go about this. Because of my disability, I cannot have a full time job. As a result, I cannot do this as volunteer, or any unpaid work on a regular basis. The goal is to be able to speak to all sorts of people, in all sorts of fields, and clear up misconceptions about mental health issues. I would personally be very interested in media training and speaking to students. Anyway, watch this space. Something pretty amazing may just come out of all this.


28 thoughts on “Mocking Mental Heath Disorders

  1. I don’t think this article alienates just people with mental health disorders but anyone who can see the formula here. This article reads like the low quality rubbish churned out by content mills so they can get more hits and more ad revenue. Collect a few tidbits of celebrity news, mix it all up, add some of your own nasty acid and bile, regurgitate and get a shitload of hits (some from people who just enjoy wasting time reading crap online and some from people who click knowing that they’re about to read something very offensive that’s quickly going to go viral so they might as well know what’s going on then.) I guess Saba and her editor didn’t realize that people expect more from newspapers than the crap you see on trashy celeb gossip sites that make TMZ look classy. And the “army of colored kids”?! Holy shit, how is this girl still a functioning member of society? Go around talking like that anywhere outside of Pakistan and you’d be shunned and rightly so. No, first you’d be bitchslapped and rightly so. Was this the girl who wrote the “I hate fat people” because “they smell bad, eat all the food and hog the covers with their fat bodies” article? How’d she go to New York and come back without getting the shit kicked out of her?

    • We’re all well aware that tribune is made for clicks. I wish they’d just admit they deliberately do this stuff instead of pretending to be naive about it.

      No clue if she’s the same writer who wrote about hating fat people but she did write about hating simple girls. I generally don’t read what she writes- I’m not drawn to these “10 things I hate” and celebrity gossip stuff. This is the first time I’ve read her.

  2. Good on you for writing this up. One thing you didn’t comment on was how the author makes it appear as though the mental disorder is somehow a tool that the sufferer manipulates: “Bipolars shift their mood from manic highs to depressive lows.” This sentence gives responsibility to the sufferer for his/her condition.

    Most articles I’ve read in the Tribune are rather sensationalist and, to some extent, irresponsible, offering more opinion and judgement than real information, so I’m not terribly surprised.

    • You’re right- I didn’t comment and should have added that bipolar people have no control over their moods so this is total misinformation. There’s a lot I could write but didn’t want it to become too detailed and long since it’s already quite long.

      And thank you!

  3. i appreciate you for writing this , well really that was a insensitive piece, i feel very offended coz once i suffered from suicidal depression and i know how much it is difficult in a society like this to recover from a psychological trauma , i hope express tribune will give an apology and make sure that in future no piece like this one will be printed

  4. Bravo Nabiha, for coming up with this prompt piece. To those who questioned the author’s qualifications, even the most qualified of Psychiatrists are ethically and through confidentiality bound to not ‘broadcast’ any personal details of any diagnosis, without consent.

    Not only did this extremely shamefully insensitive piece hurt the mentioned celebs, but also those who are diagnosed with these real ailments and those who know how hurtful it pass a reckless judgement of being ‘mad’.

    There is no such thing as madness.

  5. Do let me know if you get an apology from the newspaper. I expected to see more mention of this on Google, but perhaps nobody is surprised by ignorance about mental illness.

  6. Good work Nabiha!! This is one of the most unfair – and blatantly so – articles I’ve read in a long time. It sits with pieces which label molested women as ‘loose characters’ and then say that they deserve to be molested. It sits with racist, communal pieces which defend killing ‘others’ because their forefathers did your forefathers some long-past perceived wrong. It sits with casteist and homophobic articles that label ‘the other’ as strange, undeserving creatures not capable of being called human beings. It sits with disgusting mockery at any form of disability. Good on you for having the courage to write this!

  7. Pingback: Pakistan's Express Tribune forced by protest to remove article by Saba Khalid mocking mental illness - blog by Gurdur - Blogs on the Heathen Hub

  8. As a reporter who works at The Express Tribune, I feel ashamed of myself that this sort of article was allowed to be published in my newspaper. I personally apologize to you Nabiha and I can apologize only for my own-self.

  9. Disturbing, indeed. However, I do want to point out that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, widely used in the US, is not a “google book” (not sure what you mean by that; Google just makes available some pages of books for review); the DSM is a manual from the folks at the American Psychiatric Association. The last DSM was published in 1994 and then revised in 2000. It is currently being revised again to be published in 2013.

  10. Didn’t quite understand most of your point of view here. May be it is just just not right to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Just like that “” article said about a grown up white guy imagining the life of a suffering black kid. And then you blasted my previous comment on this article. However, as a reader i’m forced to request to you, whatever your disorders, don’t keep increasing the size of your article. On one hand it gets kind of creepy, like a Martin Scorsese movie, secondly, i lose track of the emotional theme that was central to the article. Like you said earlier.. its your blog, your preaching, and your personal rant.. but there isn’t much harm in keeping up with the good work.. A related hint for a short article (i’m just going overboard with assumption that you don’t blast commenters off a second time :)): A documentary from Pakistan about plastic surgery to women whose faces have been disfigured has just won an Oscar.

    • No clue what you’re talking about dude. You haven’t commented in this thread and what article about a white guy are you talking about? I have never read such an article or conversed with anyone regarding it (since I haven’t read it!)

      “forced to request” is loaded language. I like that coming from someone lecturing me. It’s not desi hypocrisy, oh no, it isn’t! 🙂

      Not sure if you realise that it’s offensive to say that my posts are long because of my disorder. And if you don’t get why, then, *sigh* nothing I can do but mutter “no shortage of insensitive fools around now is there?”

      Lastly, if someone comes to my blog to attack me, I return the favour. Don’t bother commenting again. This was totally illogical and hardly made any sense. Reads like some drunken teenager came to comment. I won’t be approving those sorts of comments in the future.

  11. Surprising research by the author. Seems like she has access to the fifth edition of DSM when it hasn’t even been published yet. Science is always backed up by facts, the DSM 5 has been in the creation phase for over four years now, so its interesting that she quotes it, when its to be released in 2013. Really, you can’t quote things that aren’t even recognized. And then the whole article is based on her interpretations. Really, this is a poorly researched article intended to waste the readers time. At least get the first five lines of the article right!

  12. Great post and response, Nabiha! The ET article was disgusting and offensive to not just those suffering from mental health disorders. I was extremely offended by the judgements the writer passed and it’s bad journalism to say the least.

    • Thank you! And I found out from an editor in the newspaper that this piece was commissioned and approved well before it went into print. It was no accident as they claim it was. ET has a formula I’m getting sick of:

      1) deliberately print provocative, offensive pieces or images

      2) feign ignorance (Bilal Lakhani’s twitter feed “Oh noes! How did that get there? I’m SHOCKED!”)

      3) Make sure there’s loads of uproar, loads of tweets etc and make sure enough people see it and make noise

      4) Then remove and print tired old apology

      5) Rinse and repeat

      • It’s very interesting that you listed all the things I’ve been noticing too. I usually read ET and often I come across ridiculous blog posts and articles where there are a lot of comments that even note how the piece is just to create controversy. The apology was EXTREMELY disproportionate to the consequences of publishing that article and the feelings it incited. And honestly, I’m not surprised that Bilal Lakhani feigned ignorance and shock; that’s a typical response. Don’t you remember the Maya Khan fiasco? That was very offensive too; obviously in a different way but it showed the inhumanity of the Pakistani media.

        I think the solution is for us and other Pakistanis to create pressure and voice our stance; create an issue about such things and make it known what we will not tolerate this. Your blog post is a great start, and I’m sharing it on Facebook, twitter and amongst friends to get people talking.

      • We need awareness but more so, we need to call out the people who pretend to be ethical but aren’t. Everyone’s a saviour and champion or so they say. They all claim to want a good, decent, ethical Pakistan. If so, they should do their part and we shouldn’t be nice to those who are just simply hypocrites. It will only encourage this culture of hypocrisy further.

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