In Australia, just like in America, we have our celebrity royalty.  Bert and Patti Newton have reigned supreme for the past forty years as hosts of just about every cheesy TV variety show imaginable.  But now they are in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Their son Matthew Newton, (33) rising star on Australian TV has just beaten up his second girlfriend.  The conviction in the first case was quashed and his second girlfriend, Rachael Taylor, star of “The Transformers” has taken an AVO (Apprehended Violence Order) out and started legal action against him.  He is alleged to have beaten her up and given her head injuries in Rome two weeks ago.

My heart goes out to her, I wish her well and I hope she is receiving support from loved ones as well.  I also wholeheartedly respect and support her decision to go ahead and have him charged.  As Bert said, “There are no winners in this situation.”

Bert and Patti are no strangers to addiction and mental disorders.  In 1993 Bert admitted to a gambling problem and a nervous breakdown when he was 25.  In an interview on Australian TV “A Current Affair” last night Patti Newton said her son had anger management issues at a very young age and that bipolar disorder had been mentioned.

While no-one condones violence, this disturbed young man is now in a psychiatric facility on a suicide watch.  With his family history, there is far more to this story than just a serious assault charge.

But that’s not just what I am writing about.  I am appalled by the many comments from local yokels attached to Australian internet news items.  I find these views steeped in the dark ages, very, very frighteningly portentous and a sad indictment on a certain section of society that cannot seem to come to grips with mental illness as a serious disorder.

I can hear Duelling Banjos playing loudly in the background while I read these opinions.  Not only is the ubiquitous Tall Poppy Syndrome evident but the sheer lack of education, understanding and absence of empathy does not bode well for future enlightenment.  Only about one in twenty comments show any form of compassion, the rest are a combination of: send him to jail, give me five minutes with him and I will show him how to respect women, spoilt brat of a celebrity family, it’s the mother’s fault for not making him take any medication, it’s his fault for taking drugs and alcohol, why don’t they buy their way out of it again and he knew what he was doing.

Mental illness is mentioned by only a few people and a couple of enlightened souls have mentioned bipolar and even borderline personality disorder.

Over the years, I too have enjoyed Tall Poppy Syndrome and have sneered at the Newtons as being mediocre, garish, schmaltzy, slick, smooth and superficial and having no particular body of substance to either of their personalities.  Last night I changed my mind.  I saw underneath the facelifts, the botoxed foreheads, the hair implants, the heavy make-up and the glitz and glamour and saw two very tired, caring parents in deep emotional pain because of the helplessness and frustration felt at their only son’s mental condition.

Regardless of how much money you have in the bank, how many times your smiling, shiny, happy faces have appeared on the cover of TV Week or how many Logies decorate your mantelpiece; when your son’s life is in danger you need medical, supportive help, not universal criticism at your perceived lack of parental skills.

Bert and Patti Newton found out about Matthew’s alleged assault and hospitalization from the news channels, as he was not in contact with them.  Most families want to stay private about these delicate matters but the Newtons have had no choice but to live out their grief and hurt via the media – the same media in which they addressed these matters so eloquently last night.  But perhaps their willingness to confront the media head-on could have the result of helping destigmatise bipolar/borderline personality disorder and give some much-needed insight into the national crisis of domestic violence.

Maybe then those ignorant Aussie bogan redneck hicks full of bluff, swagger and self-righteous opinion and indignation and most certainly not in possession of the full facts will start to realise that mental illness is NOT and never will be a lifestyle choice.

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