Last week we observed World Suicide Prevention Day and RUOK Day. Next month will include National Mental Health Week, which coincides with World Mental Health Day, along with the ABC’s contribution in the form of the Mental As campaign.
So, while I happen to be opening the kimono elsewhere, it seems like an opportune time to tell you a little story about my profile photo…
Hey, what on Earth does that have to do with mental health? Read on!
It was August 2010, and I had been thinking about making a silly Twitter account for a while. Once I had decided upon the low status character of an intern at the ABC, I thought I might draw (or commission!) a cartoon of a stereotypical pimply-faced work experience kid.
Patience failed me on the night of Tony Abbott’s "I’m not a tech-head" interview.
I fossicked through Google Images for something amusing. I’ll admit, my first search terms were “pimply faced youth”.
For Brandon and I, it was love at first sight.
The blank(ish) expression, Mona Lisa smile, cynical eyes, boyish tuft of facial hair, and his “I’m not even supposed to be here today” double-barrelled finger-gun. You had me at hey-oh!
In November 2009, poor Brandon was stuck on a trip from Colorado through Nebraska, as blogged by his partner Amanda:
That’s right – it’s Nebraska. Endless hours of unbelievably deserted flatland and (lucky us!) grey skies. Brandon’s not afraid to show how he really feels.
In August 2010, poor Brandon was unknowingly co-opted into a very silly scheme on the other side of the planet. Introducing… ABC News Intern.
This is the original profile picture:
Something clicked, because the intern gained 500 followers in 20 hours. To put that in context, it’s averaged 500 new followers per month since it began.
In March 2011, Chris Wagner — then of Lifeline, now of Mental Health Australia — made a challenging suggestion:
After a fascinating discussion between Chris, myself, and my followers, I switched to a photo of Darth Vader — a running gag tribute to the long-suffering Alan Sunderland — and pondered what I might do next.
On one hand, it’s just a silly visual gag in a photo. On the other, suicide is a growing problem, and absolutely serious. I could have dismissed Chris’s suggestion as humourless “political correctness”, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
I strongly believe humour can be applied to any topic, no matter how dark or challenging. But it’s hard to get right. Incredibly hard. Are you punching up or down? Elucidating, or intimidating? Exposing essential truths, or perpetuating stereotypes?
Look at the trail of careers (comedy and otherwise!) destroyed by attempted jokes about race, sexuality, illness, rape, death… come at the king, you best not miss.
So, a flippant visual gag that invokes suicide and self harm? No thanks.
Step 1, ditch the finger-gun. Photoshop time! It turned out okay. If you hadn’t seen the original, you probably wouldn’t even guess it had been modified.
Step 2, check out that window! I’m a big fan of white space, but that looks like a joke-shaped hole. And so, the first of my leering window visitors arrived.
There have been numerous callers at my window since 2011…
And finally, what it looks like today. Peta Credlin has been looming for a while now…
Since dropping the finger-gun, I’ve taken the opportunity to write the occasional thought about mental health issues. It’s something a touch more serious than the regular hijinks… a weightier subject I can write about with some experience.
Hopefully it’s helpful to some of my followers, and even educational for others?
If you, or someone you know, needs help you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.