Dr Christian Jessen & mental health problems of our own making

It was reported in The Times (paywall) that Dr Christian Jessen is worried about bankruptcy because of a recent loss in a libel case brought against him by the former leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster. Dr Jessen sent a tweet accusing Ms Foster of having an affair. That claim has been found to be both untrue and evidently damaging. Foster’s legal team sent numerous requests to Dr Jessen to take the tweet down and he refused. Ms Foster instigated libel proceedings against the doctor and has won her case. The Times also report that the judge, ‘not only ruled against Jessen, he also awarded “indemnity costs” against the doctor in a rare move that is used to punish parties for their behaviour during litigation.’

The case is incredibly cut and dry. The statement was untrue, numerous opportunities were afforded to Dr Jessen to withdraw his claim but he refused, his behaviour during litigation has also been noted by the judge. Despite all this, Dr Jessen still argues that the judgement is unfair. He is now claiming that he is in danger of going bankrupt and is attempting to crowdfund the cost of the damages and his legal costs – a move that has been given short shrift  by many. He has made libellous comments and yet still seeks to get out of paying the damages that resulted from his own actions.

I don’t intend to comment on the specifics of the case at all. Those can be found easily enough through a quick google search or reading any mainstream newspaper website. But I did want to comment on one particular thing that Dr Jessen has done, or rather part of his defence as to why this is all unreasonable and unfair. This is his argument that his mental health is ‘cracking’ as a result of the court case.

Now, I don’t know the state of Dr Jessen’s mental health and I have absolutely no interest in taking a guess at it from a distance. But one of three things must be the case. Either, his mental health really is taking a nose dive – which is very unfortunate – as a result of his own actions. Alternatively, he is feeling very down about the situation he has put himself in and is using the terminology of mental health to describe what is entirely to be expected when one gets themselves into the kind of mess he has conjured up for himself. Or, and this would be the most cynical view, he has no mental health issue to speak of at all but reckons by invoking it he will get the sympathy vote over a situation entirely of his own making.

As I said before, I am in absolutely no position to say which of those is the case. What is for certain, however, is that he has so acted and behaved in ways that are appalling. His actions were the direct cause of the situation he is now in. As somebody who suffers from serious mental health issues because of things entirely beyond my own control, it is a touch frustrating when people invoke the good of their mental health to try and avoid the reality that they feel as they do – whether an actual mental health episode or just a situation that they don’t like and doesn’t make them feel good – because of their own sinful behaviour. Telling lies, broadcasting them to the world, doubling down on them when you’re asked to stop and then finding yourself in front of a judge because of it may well take a toll on your mental health. But we shouldn’t pretend that this is something beyond your own control – it is a situation entirely of your own making.

There is a tendency among some to use mental health as a get out of jail free card. Whether it is stuff I just don’t want to do or I am looking for a bit of sympathy that I can use to leverage what I want, mental health is often brandished as a means to get what we want. The problem with doing this is that it causes untold problems for people who are not looking for a sympathy vote, nor looking to get out of things they don’t want to do, but happen to suffer from debilitating mental health issues.

There are many people who already believe anybody who claims to have a mental health problem is swinging the lead and a bit of an idle layabout who can’t cope with the normal realities of life (see the Guido Fawkes comments recently in respect to Nadia Whittome’s diagnosis of PTSD for instance). When Dr Jessen uses mental health – however real it may be – as part of his wider, yet evident, attempt to elicit sympathy for a situation of his own making, it will be added as evidence lending weight to the claims that it’s all just made up really. Those with such illnesses are just looking for attention or sympathy.

None of that is to say that Dr Jessen is, in fact, making up the claims about his mental health. He may well be suffering. But to use such in the context that he is – having been found guilty of libel but evidently trying to shift blame and wriggle out of the ramifications of his published lies – hardly helps the cause of mental health advocacy. Many people already face stigma surrounding such illness and to have it used as a bit of leverage to get out of the consequences of what you have done does nothing to help.

The fact is, when we do things wrong, we are likely to be troubled in our spirits. It is called having a guilty conscience. When we are found guilty of a crime, it is likely that we will feel quite down about it. We are likely to regret the consequences and none of these things are designed to make us feel great about ourselves. These feelings are normal and are not, necessarily, evidence of mental health illnesses. One imagines, if the court case had gone away, Dr Jessen would feel absolutely okay again. Suggesting the issue is not so much his mental health but the consequences of his own actions with which he now has to live and, unsurprisingly, doesn’t much like. Claiming a mental health issue is not a get out of jail free card.

It may well be that our behaviour and sin has induced a mental health episode. Whilst we shouldn’t ignore the real health issues, we equally shouldn’t ignore the fact that it has been kicked off by our own behaviour. Although our health issues should still be addressed, we mustn’t pretend that the issue wasn’t entirely of our own making. Dr Jessen might want to reflect on this before using it to gain sympathy for himself.