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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.

  • http://brandireland.wordpress.com/

    Nice post, I do hope that the depression or her removing herself from public office wasnt brought on by her anti-gay views.

  • Pat McEveley

    As a gay man living in Ireland, where attitudes remain somewhat behind England I think, I find it hard to be sympathetic towards someone who described me and my like as an abomination and suggsted we needed help to cure us. However, as the son of a woman who has chronic depression which at times has made her life unbearable, I feel some synpathy for Iris Robinson. If her depression is half as bad as my mum’s, it is bad, and I guess it must have been bad for her to make this decision. So hate her views, vut feel sorry over her condition… wish she was as understanding of the feelings of people not like her,

  • Corin Peel

    Saw a piece in the Independent recently which said you had done more than anyone to lift the veil on this illness and make it more acceptable for people to admit and talk about it. That is why I voted for you in the Mind Champion award. I can’t see myself voting for a DUP politician next year but who knows … let’s see where this leads.

  • Darren Huse

    Important point you make about families. My son was diagnosed as bipolar seven years ago amd obviously our main focus was trying to help him, but it is very very hard for families and I don’t think the NHS understands this fully. Things have improved but there is still too little appreciation of the impact of depression on wives, husbands, parents, kids of the person with depression. My son had two kids and when he is going through a bad patch, it has profound knock on effects for three generations of his family.

  • Eric Joyce

    Thoughtful post, as ever. I Tweeted about this yesterday and I can see on Twitter that there’s quite a bit of ambivalence amongst LGBT folk. That’s understandable at one level, Of course, but as you’ve said here Mrs Robinson’s announcent has every possibility of leading to something good and she and her husband deserve credit for it. And everyone deserves a bit of compassion.

  • Patrick James

    I’m a gay man who grew up in Northern Ireland. I confess for most of my life I have simply hated Peter Robinson and his wife Iris when she too entered politics. For me they have been very nasty people in many ways.

    However I very much welcome the way Iris has gone public about her depression. It is brave and will benefit other sufferers. So for the first time in my life I feel positive about something about those Robinsons.