Opinion — 18 February 2016

Social media is a fantastic tool in many regards, it does undoubtedly have its benefits. People now more than ever are able to voice their opinion and news has become more accessible.

It’s also featured prominently in the uprisings through Egypt and Syria, allowing the rest of the world to see an unfiltered view of each situation.

And these are good things, let’s not be mistaken.

What I find alarming and concerning, having witnessed the continuation of the Garry Lyon saga over the past week or so, is how quick members of social media are to slam somebody admitting to mental illness.

Social media has come alive since rumour broke about how former AFL star and Melbourne Demons great Lyon allegedly had a relationship with the ex-wife of close friend Billy Brownless.

Whether the rumour is true or not isn’t for me to say, the truth lies between the two parties and I’ll refuse to believe anything until either or both parties agree to comment on public record.

What has since become a point of public ridicule is that Lyon admitted to battling a mental illness.

Instead of receiving the support of a community which once adored this man, rightly or wrongly, he has received an incredible backlash over the legitimacy of his illness.

This is what I find concerning.

It is an understatement to suggest that mental health is a major problem, not just in Australia but worldwide. In fact, one in five Australians will suffer from mental health issues during their life, a problem which is commonly linked to suicide, something six Australians will die from every day.

It’s something which seemingly has a difficult solution or at least one which we haven’t quite discovered.

Yet every institute from Beyond Blue to the Black Dog Institute, renowned entities who aim to diminish the occurrence of mental health in Australia, suggest part of the solution could be found in offering support to those who admit to having an illness.

What we’ve seen in the past couple of days from some social media users is a polar opposite of this suggestion. To give an example (without putting names to the statement) here are some comments off Facebook regarding the issue:

“It’s a complete cop out.”

“You’re a dog, Garry Lyon.” “Man up Garry.”

“Spoilt, coked up, overpaid – makes a poor life decision then plays the mental health card – get real.”

And finally, “Stop hiding behind a Mental Health excuse”.

While there was a great deal of support at the time for Lyon, the minority remains extremely vocal that mental health is being used as an excuse. What’s perhaps even more troubling is that this is not an isolated incident.

Mitch Clark, former Melbourne forward now of the Geelong Cats, had a well-publicised battle with mental health which forced him to retire from the game in 2014, before returning to the AFL with Geelong.

At the time of the retirement, a minority was once again vocal. Some examples off Facebook can be cited here:

“AFL needs to investigate… this is a complete cash grab,” and, “Mitch Clark you’re a flog”.

And comparisons can be seen once again with the recent Lance Franklin case.

People are entitled to their opinion, there’s no doubt there. The problem arises when people with mental illness are portrayed as weak, or trying to pull a scam or a flog.

This does not in any way help erode the stigma of mental illness or make the victims of the illness feel any more comfortable admitting to the illness and seeking help.

And furthermore, the public is not Garry Lyon or Mitch Clark or Lance Franklin. We do not understand what they are going through, we can sympathise but all struggles are unique to the individual and it’s therefore not our place to criticise or comment on whether the illness is real or not.

While it is only a minority who voice these disturbing views, it’s still too many, which in no way helps improve mental health in Australia. It also demonstrates how much work needs to be done by Australia regarding the issue of mental health.

Because whether Garry Lyon did what the media is claiming he did, or whether it is entirely inaccurate, is irrelevant. No one deserves to be ridiculed by keyboard warriors for having a mental illness.

This article first appeared on ‘The Roar’ on 18 February 2016.

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