Friday, 26 July 2013

Jokes in Poor Taste

Here's one for you: What do you call the chair of Amnesty UK who makes jokes about mental health?

Ciarnan Helferty.

No, really. It has been discovered that Ciarnan Helferty, the UK chair of Amnesty International, an organisation 'working to protect human rights worldwide' has made several jokes about schizophrenia and OCD over a considerable period of time. A screenshot of the jokes is below:

Political Scrapbook revealed the jokes on their website here alongside posters of a mental health campaign that Amnesty International are running in the Republic of Ireland.

Almost worse than the jokes, the first comment on that page starts off by saying:
"Oh for pity’s sake. As someone who has suffered from severe depession [sic] on and off for years I feel I need to say “grow up”
his comments on twitter were fine"

Oh right OK, so someone who has suffered from depression, and not schizophrenia or OCD, has the right to authorise jokes and comments about all mental illnesses then? Someone who suffers with their mental health really should be aware of how different mental illnesses can be!

My complaint here isn't against Amnesty International. It is against Ciarnan Helferty, the person who made the jokes. I know that Amnesty International do a good job, and I have no complaints against them. Just Helferty.

Paranoia is quite common with schizophrenia. While I was unwell, I would often fear walking through public areas as I felt like everyone around me was laughing at me. In my mind, if someone was laughing, they were laughing at me. If someone was conversing with another person or on the phone, they were talking about me. If someone was looking towards my direction, they were staring at me. If someone wasn't looking towards my direction, it was because they were trying to avoid being caught looking at me. Everyone was talking about me, staring at me, and laughing at me.

Eventually, when I recovered, I realised that not everyone was laughing at me. But now I discover that this man, who has considerable power and influence, is indirectly laughing at me. And not just me, but the other 70 million people who have schizophrenia, along with the millions of people who suffer with OCD.

Is it OK for him to do this? In my mind, the answer is no. Others may disagree, but I personally believe that the only people who can make jokes about an illness are those who suffer with the illness themselves. A sense of humour is so often helpful to recover from an illness, so I'm not saying no jokes about any illness, but a little tact and sensitivity, please!

The good news is, Helferty has decided to refer himself 'under board code of conduct'. Amnesty UK tweeted several people, myself included, to apologise:

Fingers crossed, Helferty will be treated fairly, but strictly. A man in this position of considerable power and influence should NOT be making stigmatising jokes about mental health. When a person struggles with their mental health, they have enough to deal with. They have the illness itself, then they have the medications that can have severe side effects, the poor or even no community care, and then there's the stigma. The illness itself is difficult enough to live with!

So for anyone who feels like laughing at those who live with a mental illness, please think twice. We have enough to deal with. Don't add stigma and ridicule to our problems.


  1. Typically, people with schizophrenia, due to the nature of being diagnosed, have been in the mental health system for a long time. This is no laughing matter and a good reason not to make jokes about it. What is also annoying is when people misrepresent the experiences of schizophrenics with other ideas. Split personality for example.

    It's a shame that people would rather try and "be funny" than perpetuate the truth.

    1. It's a shame that people find it funny to laugh at an illness that is so misunderstood, and don't care that they're adding to the stigma. Most probably don't realise that these 'jokes' really can affect a person with this sort of illness. With paranoia being 'all about you' - everyone's laughing at you etc, these sorts of jokes aren't helpful, even when recovered.

      Hopefully he really will learn his lesson and stop others from making these sort of jokes in the future!

  2. I completely agree with you. These 'jokes' would be upsetting coming from an uneducated random in the street, but to come from a high profile individual whose organisation stands for human rights, dignity, integrity, respect, is just appalling.