The media and mental illness

Grant Hackett was once an Australian sporting hero. It goes without saying that, since his retirement, he has suffered a fall from grace.

A multiple Olympic gold-medal winner and sporting icon, Grant Hackett held the hopes and dreams of Australians in his hand, performing great feats of heroism in the pool. After retiring, Hackett has struggled with life outside the pool and has swum in murky waters ever since.

From his documented addiction to sleeping pills to the infamous ‘nipple-tweak’ episode, he has endured as much media spotlight for his acts off the sporting stage as he did on.

The latest twist in the Hackett saga occurred this week, as a family ‘disturbance’ on Wednesday night led to his disappearance from the Versace Hotel at 7.30am on Thursday.

On Wednesday night, Hackett was taken to the Southport watch house in an agitated and aggressive state. He was calmed down and released without charge.

Recently, Hackett’s brother, Craig, took to the media to comment on the family’s struggle with Grant’s “chronic” mental health issues.

Grant Hackett then turned to social media, posting on Instagram that “My brother comments to the media … but does anyone know he beat the s*** out of me?

“Everyone knows he is an angry man.”

Neville Hackett, Grant’s father, contacted the media on Thursday to plead with his son to contact the family to let them know he was okay. He had been missing for half a day.

“He’s definitely a missing person and he’s mentally disturbed and needs urgent help,” Neville said told reporters.

“If anybody’s seen him, contact the media or police or the Hackett family.

“Grant, let us know where you are, we love you and we want to help you.”

Neville Hackett said that Grant was “very depressed and not in a good condition” when he last saw him. Others have also noticed warning signs about his mental health issues.

One must question the wisdom of turning to the mainstream media for help. Surely making Hackett’s condition more public would work against him. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure that the media would like nothing more than to snap the next ‘Grant Hackett slumped in a wheelchair’ photograph, rather than to help him with his woes.

Grant Hackett’s struggles have been well-documented. The Herald Sun certainly took no time in jumping on the bandwagon, with click-bait headlines and sensationalist stories. The Courier Mail also posted an article during the week, listing Hackett’s highs and lows, with an emphasis on the lows.

What is also well-documented is the part the media has played in bringing down celebrities. Cases that instantly come to mind are the hounding of Brittany Spears to the point of her breakdown, the demonising of Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson, the James Hird witch-hunt – and let’s not forget the paparazzi’s involvement in the death of Britain’s favourite Royal, Princess Diana.

What Grant Hackett needs is the space and privacy to work through his troubles with professionals. We can’t presume to know the Hackett-family situation in its entirety, but neither do we have the right to speculate.

Dealing with mental health issues is a tricky tightrope affair. The last thing Grant Hackett needs is the Australian public on his back whilst he tries to walk that fine line between healing and breaking.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing mental health issues, please contact Lifeline, Beyond Blue or the Black Dog Institute.

What do you think of the media’s involvement in Grant Hackett’s affairs?

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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