Here’s why you should never tell someone to “get a grip”.
Jeremy Clarkson has always been a controversial public figure. At the height of his Top Gear fame, he was punching producers, straining diplomatic relations in Argentina, and being ejected from the BBC. Nowadays, he’s accusing climate activist Greta Thunberg of having “an angry, tearful strop… a full-on adolescent meltdown” and belittling people’s mental health struggles.
The latter seemingly came out of nowhere during Clarkson’s recent interview with GQ Magazine. Speaking about the fact he “never got a chance to say goodbye to the Top Gear studio audiences”, Clarkson admitted that he became “slightly emotional” at the end of the last series.
“Do you cry often?” the journalist asked.
“Everybody cries,” replied Clarkson. “Everybody cried when Princess Diana was buried.”
It would have been fine to leave it there. However, Clarkson – warming to his theme – bulldozed onwards in a bid to champion the “stiff upper lip” approach to GQ’s readers.
“As a general rule, you’ve got to get a grip,” he said. “I think the expression ‘get a grip’ needs to come back into the lexicon as soon as possible. Everybody needs to get a grip.”
Then, out of nowhere, he added: “Meghan Markle… just get a grip.”
It’s worth noting here that, just a few months ago, Meghan tearfully admitted that she found the media spotlight to be “really challenging” – particularly during her pregnancy with baby Archie.
“It’s a lot,” she told ITV’s Tom Brady. “Not many people have asked if I’m OK, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.”
Brady then asked Meghan: “And the answer is, would it be fair to say, not really OK? As in, it’s really been a struggle?”
“Yes,” she replied simply.
It should, in 2020, be obvious to everyone – Clarkson included – that telling someone to “get a grip” when they’re going through a difficult time is… well, at best unhelpful, at worst extremely damaging.
A few years ago, Time to Change (England’s biggest mental health anti-stigma programme run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness) released the results of a poll exploring the clichés and unhelpful comments people face when they talk openly to someone about their mental illness.
“Pull yourself together” and “get a grip” topped the list, alongside “there are people out there much worse off than you” and “snap out of it”.
As Time to Change noted at the time: “Many people with a mental health problem say stigma is one of the hardest parts of the illness, and often worse than the symptoms themselves. It can lead to loss of friendships, feeling isolated, not seeking the help they need and sadly, a slower recovery process.
“These common clichés can make it even harder for people to speak out.”
I’ve no doubt that Clarkson, if he reads this article, will roll his eyes extravagantly when I point out that discussing mental health issues shouldn’t be seen as a weakness, or an abnormality, or something to be ashamed of. After all, this is the same man who once dedicated an entire newspaper column to criticising people who kill themselves on train lines as being “very selfish”. But he needs to know that throwaway statements such as these have a wider impact.
In the UK alone, some 34 million people are suffering from mental health issues – and many find it difficult enough already to speak up about what they’re going through. The phrase “get a grip” suggests that we can switch our mental health issues on and off. That we are somehow choosing to struggle. But there is no selection process when it comes to the likes of depression, anxiety or OCD: it’s a serious chemical illness that can affect anyone, even the Duchess of Sussex.
So be careful, Clarkson. You have a platform which allows you to speak to thousands of people in the UK, which means that your cavalier approach to mental health could have an unforeseen ripple effect. Rather than break down the stigma and discrimination that many people face every day, you have belittled all those who are struggling – and it could result in someone burying their feelings and struggling on alone.
Think about that the next time someone asks you if you cried watching the last series of Top Gear, yeah? And, if you can’t bring yourself to say something that may prove helpful to those struggling with mental health issues, then maybe… well, then maybe stick to talking about cars instead.
Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at firstname.lastname@example.org.