Ken Livingstone and the Social Death Sentence

This week the media is going hell for leather over Ken Livingstone and the fact that he told a reporter who has suffered mental health issues that ‘he needs psychiatric help’. Given the fact that this happened in the same week as the Paris attacks that killed 129 people this is interesting, and naturally I have an opinion on it. Obviously it comes from my experience as a man living with Bipolar Disorder. The most important issue here is that Livingstone can say whatever he likes. This is a free, liberal democracy and, begging your pardon, but I am freaking glad to live in such a place and I will not give this freedom up as long as I breathe. Secondly, I appreciate that someone has propelled into the public eye the issue of how we talk about mental illness. This comes in the same week that Charlie Sheen went public as a HIV positive man and there is no doubt that, whilst there are people who use HIV or AIDS as terms of abuse, that sort of thing has ebbed over the years, and I think that we should welcome that. We must not legislate how people talk but I think that, on balance it is a good thing to consider how one’s words might affect others. I say this as a man with the darkest, most mordant and sardonic gallows humour of anyone I know and I regularly indulge in such taboo humour too. What I like about this is that we are looking hard at why we all intuitively believe that it is insulting to be told that one has mental health problems. In the same way that everyone believes it to be a good thing to have a sense of humour it is second nature to accept that to be mentally ill is bad, funny for those watching and, let’s face it, pretty much a social death sentence.

I have no answers beyond the fact that I will defend Livingstone’s right to say whatever he wants. That is one thing that is more important than anything that might befall a sufferer of psychiatric issues, and in the above linked BBC article I loathe the use of the worst word of this century: ‘offensive’. It might well be offensive. Tough luck, and welcome to the Age of Reason. All I can say is this to each one if us: is it funny to taunt the mentally ill? Is it funny when mental illness strikes? Are the mentally ill so pitiable that the term should be thrown at people as the worst thing they can be?

You tell me folks: is what I am the worst thing you could ever imagine for yourself?