The puns have come out in full force since Ant McPartlin was arrested for drunk-driving.
From Twitter – Saturday Night Take Him Away’
From The Sun (surprise surprise) – ‘Ant and Wrecked’
OK, we all know that Ant McPartlin needs to face the consequences of drunk driving. Absolutely – I will not argue that with that whatsoever. It’s dangerous, it puts people’s lives at risk. It must not happen.
But what is the purpose of someone facing the consequences of their actions? Is it to punish them? To make them feel bad? Or is it because we don’t want this to happen again? Because we want everyone around us to be safe and well?
It’s the latter isn’t it? We don’t want it to happen again. For the sake of everyone involved.
So how do we prevent it from happening again?
Well, in my humble (non professional) opinion, I think the best way to prevent this kind of accident, one that is obviously driven by the demons of addiction – a horrible disease – is to give the person the best possible chance of recovery. And I don’t believe that anybody can free themselves of their demons if people continually throw them back in their face.
This is something that celebrities are especially prone to and unfortunately for them, they are not born with an in-built celebrity resilience button that lets it all wash over their heads and carry on as if nothing has happened.
There’s this old-school tough love idea when it comes to treating addiction. It promotes the idea that, if we punish the person, they won’t repeat their addictive behaviours. But I’m not convinced that this approach works.
I have never forgotten hearing about the Camerados movement through my work with Home Group. We were joined by Maff Potts – the founder of Camerados for a workshop one day based around supported housing and how we can help vulnerable people achieve great things.
The Camerados movement is based on the idea that people need two things to get through tough times: People and purpose.
And I think this is especially true when it comes to addiction. This nasty and incredibly stigmatised disease leaves people feeling incredibly isolated. It keeps secrets, it can create antisocial behaviour, it can lead people to behave in ways they wouldn’t normally dream of (which I imagine is the case for Ant McPartlin).
People lose friends, partners walk out the door, jobs are lost, people are gossiped about. But does this stop that person drinking or using? I very much doubt it.
In essence, what I have just described is the addicted person losing both friends and purpose.
I watched a documentary a few years ago about a young couple who were addicted to heroin. The mother of the young woman tried desperately to keep her daughter safe and well by paying the rent, cleaning up the flat, taking her to get her hair done, buying her clothes. By the end of the programme, the daughter was still using.
In this instance, the woman had great support (i.e. the friends element) but no purpose – everything was done for her. I guess this is what is called ‘enabling’.
In another documentary I saw more recently, another young woman who was also addicted to heroin had a job and her own flat, but literally nobody around her – no friends or family. She died from drug use in her early 20s.
So I believe there really is something in the fact that we need both friends and purpose to survive.
So how does this relate to Ant McPartlin?
I’ve seen some pretty nasty comments on social media about him this week.
Basically, people are wishing away the two things he needs to overcome this illness – friends and purpose. Not all people of course – he clearly has lots of support.
But with newspapers such as The Sun delivering harsh headlines that will no doubt change people’s opinions of Ant McPartlin for the worse, and with others publicly wishing for the end of his career – we are all playing a collective role in reducing his much-needed levels of friends and purpose.
Yes he’s a celebrity. He has money and support. But it’s not about that. It’s about real, genuine connections. About reasons to want to get out of bed in the morning. Shame will not help somebody throw that duvet off in the morning. Shame will only encourage people to drink. To go further down the road of isolation and illness.
You can’t protect somebody from the consequences of their actions. And you shouldn’t. It doesn’t help. But let them be to face those consequences. Because I’m quite sure that they are feeling far worse about them than you are.
But if we think back to why we want Ant McPartlin to face those consequences – it’s for the accident not to happen again.
So he needs to recover. He has been arrested. He’s been all over the news. His show has been cancelled and he’s gone back for more residential treatment.
But if we keep throwing stones at him – through the media, through social media, by negatively influencing people around us, we are in effect forcing him into a dark corner. And the only thing that will say ‘hi, I’ll be your friend’ when he’s alone in that corner will be the demon drink.
So my plea is this. It’s done. The consequences are in motion and the treatment is happening.
Being stigmatised and shamed is not the same as facing the consequences of our actions. So let’s not chuck a boat load of stigma at Ant McPartlin for having an illness.
A Series Of Unfortunate Stereotypes, my book about mental health stereotypes and self stigma, published by charitable mental health publisher Trigger Press, is available to pre-order now.