One flew over the fucko's nest: Columnists like Clarkson and Moir continue to mock mental health issues...

Spoiler: Unlike them, I won’t offer a diagnosis because I’m not a professional psychologist.

Content warning: This edition contains frank discussion of mental health issues and references to suicide. Feel free to skip this one. The Samaritans are accessible 24 hours a day on 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org


Certain statistics are quoted so often that their meaning becomes flattened and abstracted from reality. But the fact that the biggest killer in the UK for men under 45 is themselves should never lose its shock. Nor should the fact that the rate of suicide is at its highest among men between the age of 45 and 491.

For many people in the UK, it does not feel like things get better. There is a gulf between the rhetoric of mental health ‘awareness’ and the reality of mental health support. Even before the pandemic one in four people with mental health problems had to wait at least three months to start NHS treatment, with some going as long as four years without help.

It’s into this environment of enormous need met with often broken provision that columnists lob cheap, glib, and tremendously cruel ‘insights’ on mental health. While British newspapers often report on mental health campaigns in their news and features pages, the comment sections remain a wild west of insinuation and appeals to ‘old-fashioned values’ like that peculiarly British medical marvel, the stiff upper lip.

These attacks on the very concept of mental health and the need for therapy spike whenever a celebrity dares to suggest that their relationship with the media, in particular, contributes to their own distress.

I wrote this time last week about Piers Morgan’s ugly attack on Naomi Osaka after she declined to participate in press conferences at the French Open. And where Morgan goes, his old frenemy Jeremy Clarkson follows.

In his column for The Sunday Times today — Spare me Keir Starmer’s tears. Bottling it all up has never done me any harm — Clarkson pulls Prince Harry, Naomi Osaka, and Keir Starmer into an argument that effectively boils down to ‘showing emotion is bad and hugely unmanly’.

Think for a moment about those figures on suicide and who the demographic that most love Jeremy Clarkson are.

The human embodiment of dad jeans and classic rock compilations writes:

I once said something or did something or went somewhere that caused a group of young people to become so angry that they came to my house and threw horse manure over the garden wall. I was unbothered by this, chiefly because it landed on my flower beds. Later, when I was receiving an honorary doctorate from Oxford Brookes University, a young lady registered her disapproval of something I’d done by throwing a trifle into my face. And again I didn’t mind because a) it was delicious, and b) I subscribe to the Chumbawamba school of thinking: I get knocked down but I get up again.

It seems, however, that I am unusual. Other journalists are now so upset by the abuse they get, both online and in real life, that the government has employed a team of meeting enthusiasts and policemen officers to draw up an action plan. Doubtless, there will be much counselling.

I loathe counselling. It’s just so American. You pay a lump of money to a man or a woman or a they, and they sit there while you tell them all about yourself. And then, by talking about your problems, you come to understand that your mother was to blame for everything, and this somehow helps you cope when the next ecomentalist comes round to fertilise your face with trifle.

It’s not surprising that Jeremy Clarkson, a man with, as Stewart Lee memorably described them, “outrageous politically incorrect opinions that he has every week to a deadline in The Sunday Times… almost as if they weren’t real”, is comfortable with receiving angry responses.

Clarkson has been ‘triggering the libs’ long before the notion ever entered the general seething consciousness of the internet. Anger and abuse is a barometer for Clarkson of how well he’s doing, how much he’s upset people with strident opinions on things that he doesn’t really care about at all. The whole thing is just a game to him.

It’s why the idea that other journalists — especially women and people from minority ethnic groups — don’t see waves of abuse directed at them simply for existing as ‘part of the job’ is baffling to Clarkson. He doesn’t care about what he says so, in turn, is unbothered about how people respond to it. Safe inside the armour of Jeremy Clarkson the booming bigot, the ‘real’ Clarkson sniggers away to himself, bedding down on all the money he’s made from being a prick.

Clarkson sneers at therapy, dismissing it with the same contemptuous ease that last week led his colleague Camilla Long to brand EMDR — a treatment for PTSD that many people have credited with saving their lives — “some woo-woo eye movement therapy” merely to make a crack at Prince Harry.

I’m not a mental health professional so I won’t make any amateur diagnoses on what causes Clarkson to behave the way he does, other than to say that fame is a kind of delusion and one that he has luxuriated in for decades now. Clarkson: The Character could never admit to being hurt and the idea of needing help is anathema to his woof! bang! wallop! look at that bloody nice motor! schtick.

Were the man and his fans to read this newsletter edition they’d howl that he’s “just joking”, but jokes and sneers about mental health have a real-world effect.

The growing trend in British newspapers to respond to prominent people talking about their own mental health with jeers of derision — the same kind of attitude applied to dismissing every safety measure as the result of “‘elf and safety jobsworths” and any attempt to make the world more pleasant “political correctness gone mad” or “wokery” — is a dangerous one.

When some of the loudest voices in the room mock the very idea of getting help and suggest, as Clarkson does in his column, that “it’s unmanly and un-British to sit there blubbing” it has an effect. People who are struggling don’t just hear the columnists mocking Prince Harry, Naomi Osaka and Keir Starmer, they hear them mocking them. And the idea of talking to someone about their own suffering is minimised and discouraged.

When Clarkson writes of Prince Harry…

Harry Markle is another offender. This man is an army officer, so he should know better than to make a programme in which he waxes lyrical about the awfulness of his upbringing. The Me You Can’t See is what it’s called. Though “The Me You Don’t Want to See” is nearer the mark.

… he’s talking about a man who served in Afghanistan and lost friends there, a man who grew up beneath the unblinking Sauron’s eye of the media attention, and had to walk beside his mother’s coffin at just 12 years old.

Clarkson sneers in an aside that Harry as “an army officer… should know better”. The rate of suicide among serving UK military personnel and veterans has more than doubled over the past decade.

The Clarkson column continues:

… occasionally, you have to put down your phone and go into the real world, where there are racists and homophobes and billionaires and Tories and drunk people on buses. And you can’t just rub them out. You have to breathe their air and listen to them talk, and you have to be able to deal with that. It’s not a mental health issue in the making. It’s called being an adult.

We know we have to listen to racists, homophobes, and Tories spout rubbish, Jeremy — I’m currently talking about your Sunday Times column after all.

Having got his jibes in about Prince Harry, Clarkson inevitably moves on to dismissing Naomi Osaka, before performing his usual crass handbrake turn to do ‘the serious bit’:

My real beef with this issue, though, is that when all these spoilt brats are running around saying they have mental health issues, we won’t be listening properly the next time someone who really does have a problem asks for help.

We need to tune our collective radar to listen out for the plaintive cry from the next Robin Williams. Which won’t be possible if the screen is full of echoes from a million mosquitoes flapping around in a state of unhappiness because someone just said something horrid on Instagram.

This cheap conclusion is one that is often used by columnists who want to attack particular people for talking about their mental health issues: “These people are faking it and that’ll be bad for people with real problems.” No doubt had Robin Williams talked about his mental health issues more publicly, Clarkson would’ve been quick to wonder what a multi-millionaire movie star was worrying about.

In the very Apple TV+ series that Clarkson mocks in his column, Prince Harry talks to Robin Williams’ son Zak about the pain of losing a famous parent.

Clarkson isn’t the only columnist to follow Piers Morgan’s lead and mock mental health issues this weekend. In yesterday’s Daily Mail, haunted dustbin Jan Moir dedicated the main part of her column to a piece headlined — Real mental illness is a tragedy. Stars need to know it's not just being sad.

Moir — who held the old Press Complaint’s Commission’s record for the most complaints ever received (25,000) after her horrendous column following Stephen Gately’s death — has not changed one iota in the 12 years since. Just like Clarkson, who makes up a connection between the release of a mafia boss in Italy and mental health ‘excuses’, Moir indulges in utter distortion of the facts.

After mentioning three cases in which people with mental illness committed crimes — all extremely different but equally complex situations — Moir writes:

You have to wonder if all these troubled people, and thousands more, are getting the care they need, or if they can’t access mental health resources because the system is clogged up by teenagers feeling triggered because someone didn’t like their new haircut.

You absolutely don’t have to wonder that; it’s bad faith horseshit from a woman who buys her manure by the tonne. The reason for the egregious waiting times in the mental health system is chronic underfunding from the very government that Moir’s paper will prop up no matter what.

It’s qwhite obvious why Jan Moir chooses Naomi Osaka and the Duchess of Sussex as her examples of people she thinks “like so many young people today, [decline] to deal with anything that displeases her and cites impaired mental health as an excuse for doing so.”

Jan Moir knows all about excuses. Her ‘apology’ for the Stephen Gateley column, in which she wrote…

… whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one…

… And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy…

… once again, under the carapace of glittering, hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see.

… didn’t regret the disgusting things she implied but merely the timing and she claimed she had been the victim of “an orchestrated campaign”. You see, it’s fine to say you’re a victim when you’ve got a Daily Mail byline.

Moir, brandishing a therapist’s certificate scrawled crudely on the back of a Harvester menu in felt tip, continues:

There is a very big difference between someone in the grip of psychosis and someone in low spirits because life is getting them down. But you’d never guess it from all the blather that passes for debate on this subject. And that is downright dangerous.

And again I circle back to the figures on suicide that I opened this edition with. Of course, there is a wide range of mental health conditions, but to flippantly talk about people having “low spirits” in the country’s biggest-selling newspaper is beyond irresponsible.

Moir and Clarkson are not alone in this either. Recent articles by titanically foreheaded tedious take factory Spiked and Britain’s premier fanzine for tweedy racists The Spectator used the same cheap and dangerous lines to attack Harry and Osaka. The opportunity to have a go at high profile people and ignore how those arguments will affect readers suffering from the same issues is too good to pass up for columnists with a word count and a deadline to hit.

Next time a national newspaper decides to launch a campaign on mental health, check the recent output of their columnists. You can bet that for all the handwringing and #bekind sentiments, you’ll discover thousands of words dedicated to dismissing and disparaging a celebrity they didn’t believe.

And every time that happens there will be readers that are suffering who’ll feel that they won’t be believed either.

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