The Human Cost of Demonisation

by Michelle La Guilla



I have struggled with mental illness since the age of fourteen when I was raped by one boy while another watched. Whether that incident caused the black depressions, self hatred, skin crawling anxiety, intermittent self-harm and terrifying panic attacks that followed, or whether it merely triggered something already latent that would always have been lying in wait for me, I have no idea; whichever, my life has been plagued ever since by fear, shame, suicide attempts and the unbearable, enduring feeling that I am somehow simply bad.

Mental illness has taken me from therapist to hospital, confined me to bed, sent me spiralling into addiction and abusive relationships, and almost taken my life. It has also enmeshed me in the benefits system for most of my adulthood. In the eyes of the right wing press and according to government rhetoric, I am a pariah, a workshy scrounger, a burden on hardworking taxpayers.

Such narratives obfuscate two facts: the first being that I would give anything to be different, to not spend months at a time too scared to leave the house, just wanting to die at the worst times. The second is simply this: I am a person with my own hopes and dreams; I spent twelve months in rehab and have been clean the four years since; I was a straight A student until yet another breakdown forced me to put my studies on hold; I volunteer spending time with unwanted animals; I am a fiancé, daughter, sister, friend; when I am well enough I write. I am simply not stable enough to work; still I try my hardest to be a kind and decent person.

Yet now I find I have internalised the slurs; there’s an insidious little Voice of the Daily Mail in my head, chastising me if I am up later than 8am, constantly sneering how worthless and parasitic I am. It’s a dreary vicious circle which negates all my efforts to get better by destroying my self-esteem. Because my condition is invisible, I become afraid to go out, scared people will judge me, think there’s nothing wrong with me, hate me.

It’s a great weight on the soul to be vilified, even when that vilification extends to millions; it doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate from general (‘benefit scroungers’) to particular: me. And I wonder whether those who would have the likes of me tarred and feathered have forgotten we are human at all.


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