Home > BBC, depression, Jeremy Clarkson, mental health, suicide, The Sun > Clarkson: Enough is Enough

Clarkson: Enough is Enough

By now most people will have read of and fumed over/dismissed/chuckled at the latest self important ramblings of Jeremy Clarkson who has once again changed up the gears of his id without engaging the clutch of his super ego.

Firstly, on Thursday he used the platform of the popular BBC magazine programme, ‘The One Show’, to call for the execution of public sector works who were striking – as typically crass and provocative as this was he could rightfully claim that he was only saying “what we’re all thinking”, the ‘all’ in this case being him, his buddy David Cameron, and other wealthy knee-jerk reactionaries. It wasn’t big, it definitely wasn’t clever, but it’s sadly what we’ve come to expect from this witless, self aggrandising publicity whore. Clarkson, of course, owes his fortune to ‘working’ in the public sector setting of the BBC, without which his lucrative sidelines in ‘journalism’ and writing idiotic books for idiots wouldn’t have come about.

Then came the second wave in his onslaught on the latte sipping, yoghurt knitting classes. In his regular Saturday column for The Sun, Clarkson decided that enough was enough and the inconvenience caused by people thoughtlessly choosing to end their lives at the cost of others being stuck on a train for a while should be brought to the nation’s attention. He described in graphic detail the physical outcome of people taking their lives using this method, gave statistics on the ‘success’ rate, and bemoaned the lot of those caught up in the aftermath. He did, briefly, mention the awful effects such events have on rail workers, especially drivers, but the undeniable gist of the piece was that these ‘Johnny Suicides’ are far more trouble than they’re worth.

So what, you might say, it’s just Clarkson, isn’t it? Well, yes, but unlike his comments on the strikers where, much to the chagrin of Cameron, Maude and Duncan Smith, it is unlikely that any will be executed, I feel his ill conceived and irresponsible words regarding railway suicides could have a real and negative impact on several levels.

Clarkson’s tone, style and words culminate in a blithe dismissal of the lives lost in this manner, 200 a year according to him. These people have been dehumanised by his words, reduced to a collection of body parts on a railway track. How will this effect those who have lost someone close to them to a rail suicide? How will it effect those who suffer with depression and mental health issues, already alienated to varying degrees by their illness, seeing the affirmation of their lack of worth and being a ‘burden’ writ large and read by millions? These are worthless lives to be disregarded in the face of commerce and ‘getting there on time’.

The piece could also be read by some as a ‘how to’ guide – figures are given on the rate of ‘successful’ attempts and the graphic description of the aftermath will leave no-one in any doubt as to the ‘efficiency’ of railway suicides. There are guidelines for the reporting of suicides in the media – an important element is that graphic description should not be used, and to reveal ‘success’ rates is surely the height of irresponsibility.

And then there’s the impact on the overall perception of mental illness. Despite the advances that have been made there remain huge levels of ignorance and stigma surrounding mental health issues and articles such as Clarkson’s will only add to theses problems. While many rightfully dismiss Clarkson’s torpid ramblings, many of his fans see Clarkson as an advocate of ‘common sense’ in the battle against such straw men as political correctness and ‘woolly liberals’ – his words, read by millions in the best selling national newspaper, will undoubtedly reinforce already held prejudices and add to the stigma felt by many sufferers. Imagine someone who is struggling with depression going into work on Monday and hearing a colleague announce their agreement with Clarkson about these ‘Johnny suicides’ causing all sorts of inconvenience and being so bloody selfish.

Ah, yes, people who take their lives are ‘selfish’. Well, this is correct to the extent that depression and mental illness are about the ‘self’ and a common reaction for sufferers is indeed to retreat into themselves. But why is this? While it is undoubtedly a coping mechanism, how many people do it to hide their illness, fearful of the reaction from others and unable to discuss it and get the help they may need? There are times when I cut myself off from ‘real life’, but those close to me know that it is a coping mechanism because I have been able to be honest and open about my illness. You could say I’m lucky to have understanding people around me, but those sufferers who go on in silence may also have similarly excellent friends and family, they just aren’t willing to take the risk of exposing themselves due to the stigma engendered by the likes of Clarkson.

“What were they thinking”? is a common question. Unfortunately, once a person reaches the stage of deciding that to die would be better than living, they are extremely unlikely to be capable of ‘rational’ thought – someone is about to take their life and we should expect them to consider the logistical implications? Clarkson obviously thinks so. I have experience of this and I could not tell you what I was thinking the countless times I have stood on a platform as a train approaches other than “Now, do it now and the pain will go”. I have never taken that final step, and hopefully I never will. I have enough experience and insight into my illness that I can recognise triggers, and also (most of the time) recognise that what I want is an end to the pain, not an end to me. But what of others who haven’t had 10 years of being diagnosed; who haven’t had the luxury of therapy that helps you to understand what is wrong and what you can do to help yourself; who haven’t had the support of those around them? What must they think when they read an article that calls them selfish and an inconvenience?

Included in most, if not all, employment contracts will be a clause concerning bringing the organisation you work for into disrepute, particularly in public organisations. I have no doubt that if I or someone else made such irresponsible statements as Clarkson has repeatedly done under the guise of ‘opinion’ in a national newspaper that we would be disciplined. Paul Farmer of MIND has asked that complaints be made to the PCC regarding Clarkson’s column, but what effect will that have other than for The Sun to receive some mild form of censure and Clarkson to issue a mealy mouthed ‘apology’. Clarkson’s main employers have a responsibility here, a duty of care to the population is an implicit part of their role as a publicly funded organisation and national broadcaster, and yet they refuse to comment saying that Clarkson’s work for The Sun is outside his responsibilities within the BBC. This is arrant nonsense – the only reason that Clarkson is able to spout his ‘wisdom’ to millions is because of his success with the BBC, his fanbase composed of those who watch his hugely successful programme. His positions within the BBC and outwith the organisation are inextricably linked.

Should the BBC take any action they will undoubtedly face charges of censorship and political correctness from champions of ‘free speech’, but free speech should not, must not abrogate the speaker from any notion of responsibility, and it does not excuse any organisation that has given that speaker their platform from their own responsibilities, or will they wait until the first ‘Clarkson suicide’ happens?

Click to see the response from Paul Farmer of MIND to Clarkson’s column.

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