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.