Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Jan Wong: Airing the Globe's dirty laundry

A few years back, the Globe and Mail jumped on the mental health bandwagon, along with a number of other corporations, looking for a new and trendy cause that would raise its visibility among its rapidly shrinking clientele.

Usually, companies look for causes that won't cost too much. Because the Globe and its mothership BellMedia have all kinds of free air time and space to fill, they usually look for a cause that allows them to spew hyperbole and good feelin's, causes that make them seem like they care. These causes allow the corporate sector to rub elbows and knees with politicians who also look for similar causes to raise their profiles.

Before mental health and mental illness, there was literacy. It made perfect sense for newspapers to align with literacy. People who don't read don't buy newspapers.


But alas, Southam got to literacy before the Globe.

Literacy was a good cause because it wasn't as messy as mental illness; people who are illiterate don't usually kill themselves or talk to telephone poles. They don't put their keys in the freezer or wind up in somebody else's house making Kraft Dinner. They don't end up in hospitals or on the street, unless, of course, they are also mentally ill.

You can teach a person to read, but you can't rewire their brains.

Mental illness used to be something nobody talked about. Suicides were NEVER reported in the media unless they involved a starlet or a rock musician. Schizophrenia and bipolar conditions were "managed" but not publicized.

A few years back, mental illness became the new corporate Sunshine Girl. In fact, being mentally ill started to become acceptable. That is because the drug companies discovered new drugs to give people to stop their crazy thoughts and calm them the fuck down. The trend started with Ritalin and other drugs that are used to turn our kids into zombies, then morphed into big people drugs called SSRIs. Suddenly every mamma had a little helper, people took less time off work, and granny practically sailed through her final years cocooned in a concoction of pills and booze.

As a result of the SSRI revolution, psychiatrists became heroes and a lot of drug execs got very, very rich. Mental illness suddenly became cool as a cause to get behind. Celebrities and athletes came out of the woodwork to loudly whisper that they, too, suffered from depression but they got over it.

Turn that frown upside down. Take a chill pill.

You, too can win a gold medal.

Let's talk.

It gets better.

Mental health messaging became a creative director's wet dream.

So mental health and mental illness suddenly became safe for companies like the Globe and Mail and BellMedia who breathlessly carried features about people who overcame their hoarding, cleaning, hiding, shouting, swearing, puking or self-injuring. As Stephen Colbert might have said: I have mental illness and you can, too."

Except, funny thing about mental illness. The Globe and Mail apparently doesn't walk the talk in spite of the fact it champions workplace mental health. Apparently, when a worker presents with, say, depression -- along with a doctor's note -- the suits dismiss their claims and threaten them. They record conversations. They cut off their sick pay. They force them to come back to work even though they are still clinically depressed.

This, according to former Globe starlet Jan Wong, who has written a very disturbing book about her ill treatment at the hands of management following a breakdown.

Let's recap, shall we?

In Out of the Blue: A Memoir of Workplace Depression, Recovery, Redemption and, Yes, Happiness, Wong describes her nightmare following her coverage of the Dawson College shootings. Wong, essentially, pointed out that most of the mass murderers in Quebec are immigrants who are ill treated by the Francophone community. The Globe ran the story, then recanted after a backlash by the Quebec elite, and spent the next few years taking pounds of flesh out of Jan Wong's already emaciated hide.

It's a horrific tale, yes. But it's a tale to which many people can relate. People are badly treated in the workplace today. They are bullied, shunned, ridiculed and tortured by managers who only care about the bottom line. As a result, many people who are afraid to lose their jobs become depressed and stressed. Their lives are shortened. Their families are ruined.

In most cases, there is no help for the working wounded.

All this, in spite of pronouncements by companies that they are looking for ways to stop the madness. In spite of all the dollars being thrown at mental health by governments these days.

People are still afraid to talk about their mental health. They are afraid to lose their jobs, their security, their dignity. There are not enough medical professionals to spend time with people -- to provide non-medicinal assistance. I mean how much talk therapy can you do in fifteen minutes.

But writing a script is an easy solution. It's how doctors close out their appointments and get rid of people. It's how mental health is managed.

Don't worry, be happy.

What's disturbing is that companies like the Globe are talking about mental health and mental illness but are not doing anything about it. And that is worse than not talking about it at all.

The pressure on Wong NOT to write this book resulted in her own publisher bailing on the project, leaving her to pedal her memoir on her own time.

It might have made Wong's life more difficult but it didn't shut her up. The Globe underestimated Jan Wong, who may have lost some teeth but who is still a tiger.

She got the story out. She humiliated her former employer. She got people writing about what a nasty place the Globe is to work.

Looks like the Globies got caught with their Harry Rosens around their knees.

Good for Jan Wong.

Long may she reign.

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