Not for the first time is the Nadur Carnival at the centre of controversy. Known to have always been somewhat crude in nature; it has once again raised the ire of people across the island. This is through pictures that emerged of a beaten up van painted as if it was on the way to Mount Carmel Hospital, containing “crazy” and “sick” people and people with “dimensja” within it. For a while now, the Nadur celebrations have been teetering along a very very thin line between what is somewhat justifiable in some form, and what is out of order. With this though, that line has been crossed.
The first and possibly most obvious point to mention here is that mental illness is no joke. Just like any other physical illness, mental illness can be fatal if not dealt with. To joke about it in the first place is like joking about anyone with a physical disability or illness – and calling them crazy? It’s downright shameful. Depression and anxiety, to mention only two types of mental illnesses, can affect literally anyone – and contrary to what many people may think; telling someone to “just get over it” isn’t what is needed to solve it. Indeed to actually go anywhere near solving such illnesses is by actually providing support to the person and not making them feel like they actually are crazy (when in actual fact they are far from it).
If anything, this episode has only exposed that the antiquated mindset – where things such as mental illness are still seen as a disconnected notion that happen to a vast minority of people – is still truly present. For a group of people to have thought that painting a van in such a manner and depicting people with mental illness – something, somewhere is wrong. Be it in education on this matter, be it the attitude towards it, be it in anything else; something is most certainly wrong. However in my eyes this episode also brought out an element of hypocrisy in the Maltese people. Hundreds if not thousands have taken to Facebook to express their anger at this carnival exhibit, lambasting for how shameful it is and speaking in favour of positive treatment towards those suffering from mental health issues. I ask however, where were those thousands when the near squalid conditions of Mount Carmel Hospital were revealed? Where were those thousands when Mount Carmel nurses, who are doing all they can to help their patients, spoke of how understaffed the hospital is? Where were those thousands when last week an 18 year old committed suicide at Mount Carmel because there weren’t enough nurses to give him the supervision he needed? Where was the outrage that there is now? Where were the page long litanies about how we need to support those suffering from mental health issues? I appreciate that there are many people who do genuinely care about dealing with these issues; but for a painted van in a carnival, however wrong and out of order it is, to have gotten more publicity and outrage than a teenager who committed suicide because the hospital staff are so understaffed that they could not provide him with the support and supervision that he needed, reveals a lot about our society; and not in a good way.
Amidst all the outrage however, one response to this incident stood out. This morning, Government Junior Minister Clint Camilleri stated in a Facebook post, which he has since deleted, that “Carnival is Carnival” and that “we don’t need to create hassle over a spontaneous float.” and that “after all, this is the traditional carnival of the Nadurin!” Now, Camilleri didn’t go as far as defending the episode; but there is an undoubted air of justification to it. There is the idea that the day being carnival and the place being Nadur, justifies the insulting and shaming of people suffering from mental illness. I would like to see Dr. Camilleri telling all those who have lost loved ones to suicide related to mental illness that this is justifiable because it’s carnival. I would like to see him try to say that just because it’s carnival, it’s okay for their lost loved ones to be called “crazy”. I can’t imagine that it would go well for him.
Consolation can be drawn in the fact that Dr. Camilleri’s assertion wasn’t repeated or supported by any of his political counterparts. Fellow MP Julia Farrugia Portelli had only critical words for the float. The worry however is that a startling number of politicians elected to remain quiet on the issue, and also on other issues relating to Mount Carmel that have recently come about.
The van did actually get something right though. In it’s pitiful, rusted and decrepit state, it actually symbolises the physical state that Mount Carmel Hospital is in. Roofs held up by scaffolding, with tiles uprooted, and flooded; Mount Carmel is physically falling to pieces. It’s no use preaching for Mental Health Awareness Days and voting for Eurovision songs that represent a fight against mental illness; when we support those in need by putting them into a building that is so shoddy that it actually makes you think you’re in an asylum. I know for a fact that the nurses in Mount Carmel do their absolute utmost to help all their patients as much as they can; but even though nurses are considered by many as the modern day miracle workers – there’s only so much they can do if they are so few and have so little in terms of funds. The silence shown by politicians when the nurses themselves described Mount Carmel as being at “rock bottom”; the silence shown by the everyday man when a teenager committed suicide after escaping Mount Carmel; the silence shown when videos emerged of Mount Carmel flooding; it all shows that in actual fact, we still have a long way to go when it comes to breaking the stigma and taboo around mental health.