Here’s Good Luck to you, Mrs Robinson
Posted on 29 December 2009 | 12:12pm
BBC Northern Ireland called this morning, asking me to do an interview about the decision of Democratic Unionist MP Iris Robinson to step down, citing her severe depression as the reason.
Mrs Robinson is also a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and wife of First Minister Peter Robinson, so she knows a thing or two about the stresses and strains of political life.
I was on the programme this morning with an SDLP colleague of Mrs Robinson’s in the Assembly, and a UTV newsreader who like me has been open about her depression.
I know Peter Robinson from the peace process talks, but don’t know his wife, and her decision to retire from frontline politics, and to admit to her depression, will have been the result of deep reflection by her and her family.
If my own experience is anything to go she will feel better for being open, and she will perhaps be surprised by the warmth of people towards her admission. There are so many people out there with mental health problems, yet so few who speak openly about them.
I hope that once the dust settles she will get involved in the Time to Change campaign to break down the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness, which leads directly to discrimination.
She is no stranger to controversy, most recently in relation to making some pretty extraordinary comments on homosexuals, which led to 16,000 people signing a Downing Street petition urging Gordon Brown to do something about her.
But whatever born-again nonsense she has talked about other issues, she is someone who knows how to campaign, who knows how to get heard, and who I hope will add her voice to a campaign that needs all the help it can get. I was pleased that her statement suggested she would have more to say on the subject of her illness at a later date.
A word too on her husband. Depression is a horrible illness for the sufferer. But it can be a huge strain too on the family of the depressive, and it cannot have been easy for him to cope with his wife’s illness in addition to everything else his various political roles require.
The Robinsons and I would not be natural political bedfellows. Far from it. But I wish them well.