Julie Burchill’s despicable piece on mental health and Matt Haig – a confusing read.

Mental health is a lucrative business by Julie Burchill is a strange read. Published by Unherd, Julie Burchill talks of the proliferation of mental health in mainstream media and – in what might be considered by some to be a refreshing take on mental health and a stab in the side of the woke – she examines money-making within the realm of catering for, or even addressing, people’s mental health problems.

However, the piece is far from refreshing, a vast distance from addressing money-making, and is instead just simply bizarre. In the piece, Julie Burchill puts author Matt Haig (The Humans, Reasons to Stay Alive) in her sights and does her best at that ol’ right-wing tactic of attempting a character assassination. Julie introduces Haig as having “perpetuated his own troubles very successfully indeed“, using Haig’s success in the world of contemporary fiction and self-help writings as something to be sneered at. The scene has been set, the sights have been aligned and the bullet is about to be fired. But the truth of the matter is, Haig is just a personification of “wokeness” and, as Burchill horrendously puts forward, weakness.

Burchill puts forward the argument that Matt Haig is profiting from mental health, not because he writes books that help people deal with their mental health, but because he uses his “canon of woe” as a marketing tool with which to sell himself. One can only assume that Burchill is new to the fold when it comes to Matt Haig’s works. The Humans (2013) was the first of Haig’s books showing that early on in his literary career, he was already examining what others would call the “human condition”. Since then he has created works of fiction exposing the beauties of life and its wonders whilst being one of the first people on twitter (with a sizeable following) to push for mental health awareness.

Julie Burchill seems to have picked up Haig’s latest book, realised it was not for her and instead has used the release of the book to fire a shot to the other side of the political divide. Painting Haig as a money-hungry vampire whilst later in the piece throwing some self-help titles for the reader’s consideration (which I am assuming would ultimately make the writers money and thus make Burchill’s whole piece a contradictory piece of writing. To hammer the point home, one of the books is by Eckharte Tolle who has been championed by Oprah Winfrey and the other is reported to have changed the lives of millions, has high ratings and is a best-seller in the world of self-help books). So, I think that we can decipher that this is more about battling a softer, “woke” approach to mental health and demonising it whilst lauding others.

Burchill highlights her own depression and the mental health of her son which, in ordinary circumstances, should never be taken lightly. But she severely misrepresents depression when she claims that: “one of the signs of depression is the inability to be creative.” This is undoubtedly true in some cases, but it tars the varieties of depression and mental health with the same brush. Burchill was honest in her piece about her own depression, Haig is open and forthcoming with his, so I will do the same. I am suffer from depression and anxiety and yet I consider myself highly creative. I have helped make music and I have tried to write a plethora of books. It is in the deepest and darkest moments and in those strange highs that ideas, thoughts and emotions flow strong.

What is stranger is that, even after making it out that people suffering from depression are unable to do things like be creative, she then goes to point out that Winston Churchill was a known manic-depressive and yet he led “a tiny nation into battle against the might of the Nazi war machine.” So would that mean that people suffering from depression can’t be creative, but they can fight wars? Best if Julie check her whimsies in thinking that those suffering from depression are unable, before claiming statements that only proceed to shut them down.

The piece is not just full of contradictions, it is also scornfully dismissive of mental health problems in general. As has been stated, Julie claims that her son died because of “mental illness”. She then claims that her “poor son” was not strong. I have read the piece five or six times and (whilst I am not absolutely 100% sure that she is not talking about someone else) the words read that she holds her son in a level of contempt. Julie is strong in the ways of Marcus Aurelius (please read her piece) but her son is not. I cannot get my head around this and it seems vile that such language should be used in regards to her own family. What is more perplexing is that Julie scornfully dismisses some of the things said in The Comfort Book.

‘”There’s so much to loathe: “We are all things. And we connect to all things. Human to human. Moment to moment. Pain to pleasure. Despair to hope.”’ It is a strange thing to dismiss the book because of these things when her own account of her own son’s passing as journaled in the Guardian in 2015 shows Burchill herself describing those things her son went through. “The writer and campaigner said her son had spent the past 10 years in a “cycle of hope and despair”.

I hate to go into Burchill’s personal life in such a way but it is simply unfair for Burchill to highlight Haig’s own lived experiences and observations and denounce them as rubbish when her own experiences seem to echo his. For instance, if her own son went from hope to despair, why does she make snarky reports as to Haig saying the exact same thing?

This is just further evidence that this is not against Haig, it is a vacuous piece written to spark debate and push people toward a certain way of thinking. Is more evidence needed on what side of the divide Burchill is on – the headline image for the piece of Meghan Markle. That’s right, put Haig’s name alongside an image of Markle and the readers already know where they belong and what to think about Haig. She might as well have just put a photo of Haig’s book next to the Markle and let people froth at the mouth.

Burchill claims that the “stoics” are the best when it comes to dealing with mental health issues which isn’t a far cry from saying that the old term of “buck up and get on with it” is the best way through such issues. It is the argument of someone who dismisses a more comprehensive approach to dealing with mental health.

But let’s get back to Haig. Haig is active on twitter and, if you have time enough to scroll (I didn’t, I’ve just been following him for years) you can see that Matt Haig does not look at mental health issues from the stance of a beneficiary, he looks at mental health issues from someone who suffers from them. His tweets are often self-deprecating, honest, inspiring, cheesy, powerful, flush with emotion and one or two have confused the hell out of me. This is not someone who is selling their mental health.

Will people try and make money from mental health? Yes. Is Matt Haig one of them? I don’t see it.