Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

Robert Enke RIP. May his death increase understanding of depression

Posted on 11 November 2009 | 5:11pm

I’m in Austria to make a speech and speak to government communications specialists.  

The news is wall to wall coverage of the dreadful suicide of top footballer Robert Enke, who had fought depression for years. I have no idea what channel I am watching but there is a calm and dignity to the coverage which adds profoundly to the sense of loss clearly felt right across Germany. 

Most moving of all a remarkable interview with his widow Teresa, speaking of how she always tried to be there for him, and aways lived in hope that he would one day be free of his illness. 

Politicians from Angela Merkel down are expressing their and their nation’s grief. Footballers and coaches are doing the same, many saying they had no idea that the Hannover goalkeeper was ill, let alone liable to take his life. 

When news coverage gives way to pictures, set to music, of candles being lit and memorabilia being laid outside the Hannover stadium, and slow motion shots of Enke in action, you almost sense the makings of a Diana moment for Germany. 

It is certainly incredibly sad and nobody will ever know what was really going on inside his mind as finally he decided to end his life. 

But the only hope to be found in this horrible event  is the hope of greater understanding of a disease which is still surrounded by too much stigma and taboo.

  • Julia B

    Well said Alastair. I was hoping you would write something on this. I think the fact that Robert was an athlete may help to dispel the association between ‘depression/mental health disorder’ and ‘weakness’. I hope his wife and little daughter will find peace in time.

  • Marion

    I watched Cracking Up again on Monday night. It struck me how little people understand, even those who are closest to us and are trying. Depression must be one of the loneliest illnesses on earth. I’m glad that the German press and people are being supportive and not turning on him for ‘giving up’ or ‘letting the side’ down.

  • Judith Haire

    I’m deeply saddened and shocked I view depression as dis-ease and and continue to campaign to raise awareness and campaign to reduce the stigma and discrimination In the UK only 6.5% of research funds are used for mental health research and this is clearly nonsensical. With 1 in 4 of us affected by mental illness in some way at some point in our lives it is crucial we take urgent and immediate action to really understand depression and its roots and thus save lives. Robert Enke RIP.

  • philip hayes

    very sad. i’ve suffered from the illness myself and know how dark things can get. people are afraid of the illness, when I talk openly about having experienced anxiety/depression, in some people you notice how their perception of you changes, I think they fear you.
    Strange innit I like many Liverpool lads we wanted to grow up to play for Liverpool/Everton, Robert was playing for Germany he had achieved his/our dream- shows I think how its not what you have its one’s perception of what we have and how we respond to the situation, which is not helped of course by experiencing this dreadful illness.
    Thought I add this- ‘enjoyed’ if thats the right your programme about depression- as Billy Bragg sang- ‘I prefer it all to be out in the open”. You must know my brother Billy Hayes??
    bw Philip

  • Charlie

    Hear! Hear!

  • Jane A

    This is awful and very, very sad. I read in The Times today that goalkeepers often feel stressed because team losses are laid at their doors, and that makes sense to me. RIP Robert Enke.

  • Kiri

    I have also been watching the news coverage. Such a tragedy. The stigma around mental illness needs to stop. I for one think it’s a thin line that every one of us could easily cross at any time of our lives.

  • chales K

    I used to play non league football and there was always a lot of banter about goalies being loonie, because they were different. I hope that this tragedy makes people rethink how we speak about people who are different. I am not saying this was a factor here but I bet pro sport is a hard place to be open about your vulnerabilities

  • Penny Kingman

    As soon as I heard the news I was hoping you would say something about it. It is so tragic but as you say people with a voice on this issue have to use it to draw attention to an illness too little understood. As a Labour member I so admire what you have done for the party but I think what you do on mental illness is in many ways even more important. I loved your novel and the ending feels even more poignant now

  • Trevor Malcolm Portsmouth Hampshire

    Mr Campbell, sir, this thread of observations, comments below, and the often highly-detailed personal sharing you encourage on FaceBook, these are by far the most insightful and satisfying contributions I have read, since you began your blog last February

    You are entitled to go to sleep tonight, feeling proud of an achievement. That, some here commenting, prefer to trust and confide their stories in YOU, in preference to risking the likely incomprehension they’d receive at their local NHS doctor’s surgery

    My own suggestion? That they do both, just in case your GP doesn’t moonlight as the Village Idiot, when it comes to mental healthcare. Must be worth a long-shot try

    Thank you – for “opening up” a challenging and contentious subject-matter, with full intention of keeping it open, out there, where ladies and gentlemen who previously “suffered in silence” can share differing experiences and perspectives, but on the same broad subject

    It also helps put perspective on previous blog faffings-about, for example, on the PMs favoured biscuit. Or his alleged poor spelling

    By contrast, here’s stuff too extreme, too important and, sadly, increasingly becoming too widespread, to be left in the hands of a few bumbling politicians, aided and abetted by an increasingly fragile NHS Mental Healthcare structure

    Where often NHS staff are considered even more ill-at-ease with subject-matter like anxiety and depression, than the “service-users” and patients of longstanding they claim to help and provide for

    One lot – if the “valium and prozac” approach doesn’t work – often appear clueless. Worse, that lot, often as not, are NHS functionaries, so first, you need to learn to laugh out loud alot more, particularly difficult, whilst in the depths and throes of episodic depression

    The above does imply state-funded cluelessness. We often pay for ineptitude, with GPs swimming round, proclaiming ” … my patient is treatment-resistant, you don’t understand … ”

    Trouble is, often I DO. And so do others. But despite encouraging primary care trust operatives, regardless of their fine designations (perhaps, an over-paid NHS consultant in Pure Cluelessness, might shed some “expert” light, here) to ” … let the NHS officials tell the truth, for once, because it’s Good Stuff” – yet still the following invariably happens

    Truth may be, the products the NHS pedals and promotes, thanks to the Pharmaceutical Industry, don’t always work properly. And not for every patient treated

    They may even gift you the Mother of All Headaches, TEN times the size of Chicago, and a host of variable, but wholly unwanted, other adverse reactions

    Frankly, some pills doctors are encouraged to prescribe by profitable Big Pharma, prove a waste of funds, because they sometimes DON’T do what is claimed ” … on the tin” and throughout the copious, expensive-to-produce and glossy sales literature we’re expected to wade through, ever-cheerfully

    Here in Portsmouth, near the sea, if the prescription fob-off continues, residents will be drowning in a tidal wave of unused packets of diazepam and fluoxetine, that’s for sure

    Already, we are Prozac Nation. So, I see no point in prescribing more pills to those for whom the medication approach doesn’t work, or wears off, perhaps after some initial improvement

    Especially when a more forward-thinking and strategic intervention often delivers more lasting results and benefits. Guess what? Then, the patient proceeds to feel livelier, more whole, more themselves again. And you then merely continue the process you set in motion

    Whenever you bother to demonstrate it works, doctors look on, aghast, incredulous, as if you performed a Jesus Miracle, instead of a merely serviceable Strategic Intervention, the more enterprising approach that leads to desired outcomes. Like sufferers claiming they’re feeling better as a result

    And, to judge from observing closely patient posture, breathing patterns, the global metaphors they now use, how they language their “mental illness” and what they now choose to focus attention upon instead, there’s no deny they sure LOOK alot better, no denying that, either

    However, NHS stubbornness prevails. Even more so since the 2004 GP new contracts fiasco. In NHS provision, the “R-word” often stands for resignation; grow resigned to your melancholia, grow ever world-wearier, then die eventually in sadness, there’s a Good Patient. Shit, it’s like starring in Shakespeare’s Hamlet in some areas of NHS Mental Healthcare, out there

    Which areas, exactly? Most recent relevant survey puts Birmingham firmly in first place, Brighton, second, Portsmouth, still lingering in third spot. So – if you plan on “going crackers” – be sure you do avoid such territories, please

    There’s one point still to ponder. The “R-word” stands for Recovery, where I stand

    But I’d be fearful bothering to even attempt getting this message across NHS channels. Particularly across the vast Mental Health gormlessness of the average NHS practitioner-consultant-jobsworth

    Before you decide to engage such “help” and apparently expertise, why not make the first question you ask your medical official, asked politely, mind, – as if you’re just curious – have they ever suffered from anxiety, from depression themselves?

    (Because then, they’ll be in with a fighting chance of appreciating what you are about to talk about, those deep emotional states that you yourself may find bewildering and frightening to describe)

    Watch for the smugness to drain from their faces. To be replaced by shiftiness and discomfort. Hear the evasiveness in their answers. Then, consider is this the sort of twerp, capable of facilitating your eventual recovery?

    No return of your eye-contact, of course. Why, the NHS twerp will be in the middle of writing out a script for your Prozac capsules long before then, silly

    Trevor Malcolm
    Portsmouth, Hampshire



  • Terry Evans

    The tragedy is that he was afraid to seek help in case it meant the authorities taking his adopted 8 month old daughter in to care. 3 years ago he lost a daughter through illness. This case is just too sad for words. Alastair your unceasing work in keeping this subject topical is admirable and deserving of the praise you receive for this. As an aside can you advise our government on public communications as it is going terribly wrong.

  • Hazico


    I find many of these comments very moving and pertinent, particularly in this climate of what to me feels like a breakdown in society and values/community over the past 20 years or so.That is impacting on so many of us, and anxiety and depresaion is a manifestation that is extremely common- none the less devastating.

    Somehow I feel we need to regain a sense of community spirit and reduce isolation.This whole
    mindset of every person “out for themselves” and massive increase in consumerism has proliferated since the 1980’s politics. Maggie Thatcher commented “there’s no such thing as society” – which I think sums up what has been so wrong.I think we are suffering the after effects of a fractured society- perhaps similar to what happened in USA regarding being a “Prozac nation” etc.

    I can recommend the organization “Human Givens” Institute for excellent research and wider comment in the field of mental health.They consult with a wide range of professionals and lay people from a huge spectrum, and have an emailing list available to all, with excellent links. Also- “MIND” charity.

    I am a health professional of about 30 years’ experience- in general nursing, mental health and health visiting.

    I can totally appreciate your utter frustration Trevor- I agree so much should and could be done in the health services and related support fields.But unfortunately the reality is that regarding funding, mental health and care of the elderly have always been Cinderella services in the NHS.That is not to say that workers and professional are not doing their utmost to try and improve services for users.Each geographical area differs enormously, and can be the luck of the draw- a postcode lottery.

    I believe there should be national strategies and
    policies to ensure best possible practice and research that is consistent- eg like the NICE guidelines.Also- users of mental health services need to be at the forefront of planning, based on their experiences- working alongside professionals- especially in primary care and the community.

    In my opinion, many GP’s do not have the skills or time resources to give adequate care to clients with acute or chronic mental health conditions. 10 minute slots are the norm, and they too are under extreme pressure, with huge caseloads and a target driven culture.(Again emanating from the 80’s.)
    I’m sure there are exceptions to that, where GP’s have specific expertise or training in skills; but on the whole they are generalists- and the easiest thing in the world is to reach for the prescription pad.

    I believe there should be a multi agency approach, which includes addressing social as well as individual issues.
    GP’s and other workers should have direct access to expertise in their local area.That is not always cognitive behavioural thrapy(CBT)!Each client will respond to different approaches, and should be assessed, and given choices, depending on the severity of their health condition; also including the client every step of the way- not treated merely as the medical model view of a “patient.”

    Anxiety and depression are considered the “common cold” in psychiatry and psychology- and is massively on the increase- possibly due to the fracturing of society that we are all witnessing- leading to greater isolation and confusion.This is devastating.I believe we are losing our whole sense of values and community spirit- and need to look at why this is?

    I think the next government must give great priority to addressing funding in mental health care, and looking for creative ways to improve services that are regulated nationwide- not just fragmented pockets of good practice.

    There are also many fantastic charities that could contribute enormously to rasing awareness and reducing stigma and fear.


  • Christine

    I’m glad to see you speaking out against the stigma attached to depression, especially as that stigma is being so increased these days with the tabloid media’s attacks on benefits claimants. The Daily Express recently accused people disabled by mental illness of “moaning” about depression and stress, which I found despicable in the extreme.