‘The Me You Can’t See.’ Is not that bad after all

Snobbish perceptions and reviews should not overshadow the huge reach and positive effects of Oprah And Prince Harry’s Series ‘The Me You Can’t See.’

I understand the absurdity of listening to the most privileged, rich, and successful people on the planet, speaking about their mental health problems, and encouraging others to “say it out lound,” tell their stories, and seek help, while the reality of most people is that even if they desperately wanted to, help is out of reach. They simply can not afford it. And maybe, celebrities should start using their power and voice to advocate against the very policies that deprive people of fundamental rights and free, quality healthcare. This is to say, against the root of the problem. The Series that only focuses on the individuals while never even once mentioning the larger systems or the ideologies in which the causes of mental illnesses are rooted strengthens these systems and helps them flourish and consequently, exploit more and more people.

I get how crucial it is to mention quality healthcare, ideology, and criticize the governments and capitalism when speaking about mental illness.

​It seems like the psychiatry is adjusted not only to the realities of conducting research and the needs of patients, but to some extent to ideology and big pharma. By ideology, I mean the dominance of individualistic culture in almost every aspect of our life. Writer Ronald Purser, in his new book “McMindfulness”, explains “how mindfulness became the new capitalist spirituality” and the product of “narcissistic individualism of the wellness industry”. In an interview with Huck Magazine, Purser mentioned that “mindfulness is so market-friendly because it appeals to this highly individualistic, entrepreneurial ethos. It’s all about ‘me’ and self-improvement. It’s thriving in a culture of narcissism. The focus is firmly on delivering a more happy self. This is a real kind of social myopia: it squarely places the responsibility of being ‘happy’ within the individual themselves, rather than taking into account all the systemic, structural aspects of society that are causing the cultural malaise that has so many people flocking to the wellness industry for answers.” The exact same pattern we could trace in the mental health system — we are pushed to focus on ourselves, not the environment or the system that might be broken.

The non-profit organization “Mad in America,” whose mission is to “serve as a catalyst for rethinking psychiatric care in the United States and abroad,” re-published a personal essay of a suicide survivor and her struggle to heal in the existing mental health system. In it, the author writes: “It’s World Suicide Awareness Day. Or week, or month — I forget how long this empty virtue-signaling exercise goes on. And I thought to myself, as a survivor of more than one serious suicide attempt, what do I really want people to be aware of? I want people to be aware of how scared I am of getting ill again . . . but not in the way you think. The symptoms of the illness, as bleak as they were, are not the thing I’m most worried about if things go south . . . Please stop telling us to ask for help, and start thinking about how society and the psychiatric system needs to change in order for people to receive the care and help they need. I ‘recovered’ despite the system, not because of it.” As a disclaimer, she adds: “I am super privileged: I’m white, educated, intelligent, with a stable family and partner who can provide for me. I have lots of good friends around me. I had work I enjoyed and valued to go back to. I’ve never had to deal with the DWP. I’m cis-gendered, straight and physically abled. In my case, I also won the postcode lottery in terms of getting access to the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma at the Maudsley Hospital, one of the only specialist centers for treating OCD in the country. AND IT WAS STILL ABSOLUTELY BLOODY AWFUL FOR ME.”

So now imagine what going through mental health systems would feel like for someone who Is not that privileged. Would telling their story and “saying it out loud” really help?!

Stigma and shame can not be fully challenged in the scenario where the predominant message of psychiatry remains the same: The problem is always in the patient, not the environment. Even if it’s communicated that the illness is not the patient’s fault, even if it’s communicated that there is no shame in getting help, the patients are still told that the cause lies within them, in their past, in their biological imbalance — which is to say, it’s almost always inward. And the media is pushing these notions even further.

Even if we hear celebrities talking about their mental health problems (through media) not in the context of chemical imbalance but as a direct consequence of their life story (like in Oprah and Harry’s project) still, they make it look like the very act of telling and sharing these stories could be enough to heal. In reality, once again, the whole system and policies should change in the first place.

The Guardian reviewed the project and gave the Series two stars out of five. The writer mentions: “However real and affecting their experiences and difficulties are (and all those in Say It Out Loud are genuine, passionately articulated and frequently deeply moving), celebrity offerings valorise simply “telling your story,” not judging yourself and others, refusing to accept stigma and so on. Which is all well and good and necessary but does absolutely nothing to address how ordinary people are supposed to achieve this when the waiting lists for the services they need to access stretch to infinity, and the funding for them is cut to the bone. Nor does it acknowledge any deeper, more intractable forms of mental illness that need even more urgent attention, and to which all ancient stigma still attaches.” And I agree.

After watching the series (and understanding that such projects don’t have much potential to trigger real changes), I still believe that on a wider scale, it is too harshly and non-constructively criticized in the media — mainly for snobbish reasons. Especially by the people who claim to have sophisticated taste or by the people from academia, which to me, seems very hypocritical.

At the end of the day, celebrities like Prince Harry or Oprah Winfrey have a huge reach, so at least they can deliver even a tiny bit of information from state-of-the-art research to the masses. And I think the series succeeded in doing that. Not everyone can or should read research papers or articles. 

The project could also help in terms of stigma in a trivial sense, which is important. People could at least think that if someone as privileged as Prince Harry allows himself to be broken, weak, vulnerable, and hurt, then many other much less privileged people’s pain would seem valid, shame-free, and justified in their own eyes or the eyes of their family members and friends. This alone, I believe, makes the series worth existing and watching, especially within the context and reality, where so many extremely toxic and damaging shows with no intention to do good, have a huge reach, and are normalized, loved, and very rarely criticized.