Mental illness on trial

This week’s trial of Senator Mary Jo Fisher’s shoplifting charges has revealed more than just what she is accused of stealing. It has revealed a moment when Mary Jo’s mental illness overwhelmed her.

However for the media, it has allowed us once again to scrutinize the personal life of a public figure. Yet this time what it revealed was not an abuse of public funds, nor a seedy affair, just a personal secret about a one’s mental wellbeing.

Mary Jo Fisher strikes me as someone who likes to be happy. Despite the barrage of media that has greeted her every day of her trial and breaking down on the stand, she has done nothing but smile for the cameras. While her situation is unfortunate, she certainly does not strike me as a victim.

Yet mental illness is not about victims and it is not about suffering. It is about learning to live a balanced life with an illness, that if you share it with too many people, may actually set you back not forward. Sadly this illness, unlike others, doesn’t necessarily see family friends rally around you in support. In fact for some, they find the opposite happens.

Federal Liberal MP Andrew Robb came out this week in support of Mary Jo stating he believes 1 in 5 politicians are taking some form of anti depressant. Yet barely 5 politicians across the country have come out and admitted to it. As a colleague from the Mental Health Coalition in SA would say to me, ‘welcome to stigma’.

Over the past few months, wearing my Digital Media Officer hat I have worked with MHCSA on a new online project called mindshare. Launching in October it is a site that allows people living with mental illness, their support workers and carers to express their stories through creativity. We hope to not only have a diverse and media rich site but also allow people to see beyond their illness which will reduce stigma.

This project has seen me work intimately with a group of people whose stories are not only brave but also heartfelt. Yet what has astounded me the most is their honesty, they have gone out there and told the world a very intimate story about an illness that has more fear than empathy associated with it.

While these stories are brave, they are told with their permission. Unfortunately Mary Jo was not given that choice. Not only has that disempowered her, but has made a very private story, very public.


  1. Of course Fisher had a choice. She chose to run for the senate and she chose to remain in the job knowing she had ‘mental illness’, if in fact she really does and this is not a fabrication or embellishment to get her off the shoplifting charge. EVERYTHING a senator says and does that affects their ability to govern the Australian people is in the public interest. And what is all this childishness about disempowerment? Being a senator is a privilege, not a right.

    This self-induced schizophrenia by women is so very common in the feminised culture. So many ’empowered’ women claim they’re strong, confident, capable and independent one minute, then weak, frightened and vulnerable the next, especially when they’ve been caught doing something wrong. These are not empowered women at all, but children masquerading as adults.

    Empowerment takes place within a person’s character. This means it doesn’t change whenever it suits the situation. Empowered women admit when they’ve done something wrong. Empowered women don’t suddenly remember that they suffered abuse in the past or have some kind of mental illness or other instability, then use it to get themselves off. Empowered women realise that if they never sought serious help for these problems before they were caught, they can’t use them as an excuse afterwards. An empowered woman accepts responsibility for herself.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts and as we know Mary Jo Fisher was found guilty of one of the charges against her, assault. However I would like to point out that while my article was about Ms Fisher’s trial and mental illness it was gender neutral. I still believe the public scrutiny of someone’s mental illness, whether true or false, is something experienced by both sexes.

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