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Time to Change Street-Porter’s silly but prejudice-reinforcing views on depression

Posted on 21 May 2010 | 12:05pm

Last week, in the – where else? – Mail, Janet Street-Porter wrote a piece suggesting depression was like the latest must have fashion accessory. The Daily Mirror today kindly gave me the space, as Mind Champion of the Year and a supporter of the Time to Change campaign, to reply to her ill-informed, silly and prejudice-reinforcing article. The Mirror piece is reprinted here 

Attention-seeking takes many forms, and a particularly virulent outbreak appeared under the name of Janet Street-Porter last week.

In a newspaper article she wrote about depression as some kind of trendy new illness, which many women now view as a must have accessory, like the latest handbag.

I assume, from the unsympathetic tone, she has never experienced depression. If she had, then even for the generous cheque she no doubt received, she would have thought twice before setting out an opinion as misguided as it is offensive to anyone who knows the reality of depression.

Much that appears in the media really doesn’t matter. But people who suffer from mental health problems will often say the stigma attached to them is worse than the symptoms. Articles like hers reinforce that stigma and taboo, which in turn create shame and a sense that real problems cannot be addressed.

First, let me try to give her some insight into depression. I had a pretty heavy nervous breakdown in 1986, and I’ve had depression on-and-off ever since. With the help of friends and family, sympathetic bosses, a good GP, a psychiatrist, sometimes medication, I have learned to manage it better than I did once.

At its worst, it is like an invisible dark force that first approaches, then envelops, then appears to fill every waking thought. You can escape via sleep, but you wake and find your eyes won’t open, you lack the energy to brush teeth, shave, speak, think anything other than thoughts of emptiness and despair.

When it’s bad, my partner Fiona says it is like living with somebody from a different planet. When you get into that mode it’s very dangerous and corrosive. People ask, “what’s wrong?” and you don’t really know. “What triggered it?” and you can’t answer that either. One thing you do know, there is no way you would wish to have it.

Once you’ve had it, there are few worse experiences than knowing that dark cloud is coming back. The cause of Janet Street Porter’s ire – whether real or synthetic – is the fact that women like TV presenter and Mirror columnist Fiona Phillips, actress Emma Thompson and writer Marian Keyes have spoken out about their experiences. Like them, I’ve chosen to “bare my soul”, as Porter puts it, in print and on film because I feel that openness about psychosis and depression may help counteract the discrimination and stigma surrounding mental health.

When I had my breakdown, I took comfort from reading and hearing about others who had been through it and got out the other side. So when Mind, and later the Time to Change campaign asked me to speak out, I was pleased to.

Mental health problems can happen to anyone just as cancer can or a broken limb when you fall down the stairs. They don’t respect status, wealth or profession. And, hopefully, we can make it easier for others to feel they don’t have to hide that they’ve had mental health problems.

Men in particular find it tough to come forward. Big boys don’t cry, and all that. It goes some way to explaining why men are just as likely to experience depression as women, but half as likely to seek support. So when Janet Street-Porter says: “The idea of feeling sorry for a bloke with low self-esteem is, frankly, risible,” I wonder if the fact that out of every four suicides, three are men might cause her to reconsider. Probably not. But reasonable people might.

Frank Bruno, Marcus Trescothick and Ronnie O’Sullivan are all sportsmen who have reached the top of their chosen professions. They’ve also touched the depths of mental illness. And in being open about it, they are helping to change the way people think about men and mental health and undo the damage done by the likes of Janet Street-Porter. Far from jumping on a bandwagon or joining a trendy fad, people being open is essential to end a powerful and outdated taboo.

I know from my own recovery that it is possible to take strength and hope from the experience of others who’ve gone to what feels like hell and back and lived to tell the tale. My novel, All In The Mind, is based on my experiences of depression and psychosis. I also made a BBC documentary called Cracking Up. And I’ve been really grateful for the response to both. Barely a day has passed when someone hasn’t said they related to something that happened to me or one of the characters in the book.

Depression is neither new nor trendy. It just is. Street-Porter’s article is inconsistent, contradictory and very badly argued. It is the kind of journalism that merely serves to strengthen the damaging stereotypes around mental health problems that stop people with very real illnesses seeking help. Like the Daily Mirror, I’ve been supporting the Time to Change campaign, which is working hard to put this right.

But ill-informed articles like Street-Porter’s risk leaving people confused and misinformed. Depression and stress are not the same, although it is true that sometimes one can lead to the other.

The truth is, anything more than mild to moderate depression can be seriously debilitating. Time to Change says that one in four of us will directly experience a mental health problem. What it means is that we all know someone who is affected but, as a society, we still tend to keep these things quiet.

If we could be more open, it would of course benefit people with mental health problems, but it would also benefit society and the economy.

Many talented people are kept out of the labour market because of employers’ reluctance to hire someone who discloses they’ve had a mental health problem: only four out of 10 employers say they would employ someone with a mental health history.

That means six out of 10 wouldn’t. Some of the most important figures in history had mental health issues – Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. What would the world be like if they had been denied opportunities because they’d had mental health problems?

When Street-Porter argued there is “virtually no stigma at all” attached to mental health problems, she clearly hadn’t done even the most basic research. Nearly nine out of 10 people with mental health problems have been affected by stigma and discrimination.

Media coverage on mental illness is incredibly powerful. At its best it can help challenge stigma and at its worst it can help reinforce it. In a way, that has a direct impact upon the way people with mental health problems feel and are perceived.

The decision that people such as Marian Keyes and newspaper columnist Allison Pearson take when they speak out about it is a difficult one. I had no choice, because when I jumped from journalism to politics, the press started writing about my past troubles anyway. I have never regretted being open. I hope that by speaking out about our experiences, anyone with a mental health problem can play a role in educating and showing others in distress that they are not alone, help is out there and recovery possible.

Mental health problems can happen to any one of us and it’s important people can speak out and seek help without fear of being criticised and ridiculed. The volume of complaints about Street-Porter’s article suggests the public realises it is indeed Time to Change.

ALASTAIR’S FEE FOR THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN DONATED TO MENTAL HEALTH CHARITIES MIND AND RETHINK. HE IS ASKING JANET STREET-PORTER TO DONATE THE FEE FOR HER ARTICLE TO THE SAME CAUSE. WWW.TIME-TO-CHANGE.ORG.UK.

THE FIGURES

Mental health problems affect one in four.

Nearly nine out of 10 people with mental health problems have been affected by stigma and discrimination.

92% of the British public believe admitting to a mental illness would damage their career

Stigma stops people with mental health problems from doing everyday things – even reporting a crime.

MELINDA MESSENGER

“I thought to myself: ‘If I crash the car, I will be free from all this.’ It really does get as bad as that.”

TRISHA GODDARD

“I was in danger of having my children taken away from me when I needed five weeks in psychiatric care.”

EMMA THOMSPON

“I’ve certainly been there, in various depressions, when you never wash and wear the same things… you want to switch it off and stop.”

JIM CARREY

“I tried dealing with depression by taking Prozac. It was good for a little bit for my life. But it didn’t heal me.”

HELENA BONHAM CARTER

“I’ve been depressed and don’t like it. You find a way through it, but it is hard, still, to talk about it.”

LENNY HENRY

“That’s where depression hits you most – your home life.”

JANET STREET-PORTER

“Along with the Sam Cam handbagthe latest must-have accessory is a big dose of depression.”

*** Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash for Labour http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.

  • Samragi Madden

    Thank you for a brilliant piece on depression. I have been suffering since 2007, and am currently unable to work because of my condition. Depression is not ‘trendy’ nor is at an accessory as Janet so crudely pigeon holes it. It takes a lot of courage to come to terms with depression, to fight it, some days to win – and I want to salute you for speaking so passionately on a subject which is rarely understood or fully appreciated.

  • Carol Fisher

    I’ve had periods of depression over the last 35 years and I believe in speaking out about it. When they first happened, nobody talked about it then so I really didn’t understand what was happening to me.

    JS-P’s article is totally outrageous and just shows her ignorance of the subject. Well done for speaking out about your own mental health problems over the years and for correcting the wrong information and impression she has given.

  • Toby D\’Olier

    Whilst we may not agree on politics, your work on mental health issues is second to none.
    I do know people who suffer from various mental health conditions, and whilst I’ve been lucky enough never to have been directly affected myself, I have nothing but sympathy for the small minded way the press and other people have treated them and their condition.
    So keep up the good work, openness and discussion is the only way to combat the 18th century view point shared by Miss Street-Porter.

  • Kate

    Thank you Alastair.

  • Nick Gold

    Thank you for putting the record straight. Depression is a miserable condition that has a huge impact on family and friends as well as sufferers. Understanding is the most effective treatment; prejudice and ignorance are the main barriers to recovery.

  • Stacey Jones

    Great article Alastair. She is a stupid woman. However at least she is only being read, on the whole, by readers of the Mail who are, in my experience, as stupid and ill informed on all subject matters as she is on this.

  • Nicky

    One of the things about JSP’s article that I found particularly contentious was her belief that her parents (her mother, specifically) never suffered from ‘depression’. These are the parents she’s always spoken about in very derogatory terms – as they seemed beneath her notice, she probably didn’t have a clear sense of the kind of people they actually were. They were part of a very stoical generation, that’s for sure, but if they suffered with depression they were pressurised by society to keep it under wraps and put on a brave face. The alternative was getting locked up in a mental hospital and the various rather horrific treatments for mental illnesses they had back then (for example, see BBC4’s documentary on iplayer, Mental).

    I used to like JSP, back in the 80s when she seemed quite clever and creative. I cannot stand the woman now, particularly since she’s started appearing on Questiontime, carrying on like a shouty fishwife and coming out with very shallow, populist opinions. This article by her is the last straw.

    Well done AC for writing such a thoughtful and informative article to counter JSP’s idiocy.

  • Deborah Lee

    Excellent piece.

    It sickens me that as a society we still allow the medieval opinions of people like Janet Street-Porter to be given air-time. I too have suffered from depression some years ago and whilst it isn’t an episode I’d wish to repeat it certainly has strengthened me as a person.

    People like JS-P will never take the time to understand this topic because she’ll be too busy writing her next piece of drivel in a desperate effort to prop up her twisted little ego.

    A friend and I like to call her type “attention whores”. How very uncouth of us.

  • Anna

    I’ve never read your blog before but wow. This is one of the most powerful things I’ve read on this subject. (It may have made me cry.) (Okay, it did.) I think this is the perfect response to the ‘just get over it’ mindset I encounter a lot. Thank you so much for this.

  • Ken

    MELINDA MESSENGER
    “I thought to myself: ‘If I crash the car, I will be free from all this.’ It really does get as bad as that.”

    Wow! I can remember thinking exactly the same thing almost word for word.

  • Fiona

    If depression is the latest must-have accessory, can I sell mine on eBay? It’s robbed me of 15+ years, and a lot more besides. I would also like to commend your partner for having the strength to live with it. Sadly, my marriage is one of the things lost to the illness.

    Thanks for not letting JSP’s folly go by unchallenged.

  • Ruth

    Thank you for writing this in response to Street-Porter’s awful diatribe. I’ve suffered on and off depression, anxiety and panic attacks since I gave birth three years ago and at times it’s been utterly dreadful, I was suicidal at one point.

    I actually wish she was right and it /was/ a “trendy” thing that I could just give to a charity shop like a handbag or something, but it isn’t, in fact, it’s never really gone away and unfortunately I find that the attitude even on the NHS is “give her some anti depressants and send her away”. Whenever I’ve thought it’s gone, it’s come back. And I’m scared it will again.

  • Slim Pickings

    Great article. The fact that depression is an established and serious clinical condition, and not a must-have fashion accessory, is as obvious as Janet Street-Porter’s ignorance.

    If she doesn’t donate her fee, perhaps you can highlight that too.

  • Simeon

    Great piece – good to correct the misconceptions

  • Bonnie

    Well done, Alistair, somebody needed to point out the despicable and very harmful sentiments in that ridiculous article.
    I also suffer from severe clinical depression, it comes on without reason or, often, warning and it destroys everything you work so hard to build in life. I am ill at the moment and have gone from earning distictions in my studies to failing classes in the space of a month.I believe some sufferers- maybe even some of those attacked by Street-Porter- need to speak about the condition to make sense of it for themselves. I know that I personally need to explain to my partner how I am feeling because I don’t want him to think badly of me if I act strangely. Others, like yourself, who speak out about their suffering in the hope that it will help others are to be commended. Only when ill-informed, malicious ignorance such as that shown by Street-Porter stops will people with depression be able to live their lives free of guilt and shame.

  • Eddy

    I have lost two friends to suicide in this year alone and been on the brink myself in the past. I have always considered JSP to be a bit of an idiot. This articles confirms it.

  • Lisa

    Glad you wrote this. That article made me so cross! If people in the public eye say they’ve suffered/are suffering with depression, it does make it easier for a lot of people to seek help.

  • Mark Wright

    As ill-informed and offensive as Janet Street-Porter’s article undoubtedly is, in many ways her words will act as a very good litmus test to how society views mental health in 2010.

    Racist and homophobic jokes and viewpoints didn’t change overnight just because people said they should. No, it was only when such attitudes were held up to our society and be found to be out of touch with common perception did we then realise that we had moved on and grown to be more accepting.

    Articles such as Street-Porter’s are a useful measuring stick by which we can judge how far we’ve come along in our prejudices to mental health. With society being largely accepting and understanding of the issues surrounding mental health it’s safe to say that Street-Porter is clearly on the wrong side of the fence on this one. The fact that her opinions come across as hopelessly outdated is a testament to how far we’ve progressed thanks to likes of Melinda Messinger, Frank Bruno, Paul Gasciogne and yourself being open and honest. May articles such as yours always have a platform in the mainstream media. There was a time not so long ago when this would not have been the case

    If a convoluted benefit of the prejudice in Janet Street-Porter’s article is that people dealing with mental illness also get to see and read about the overwhelming support that IS now available then some good will have come about from this.

    Not that any of this occurred to Janet Street-Porter when she put pen to paper. Twat.

  • georgie

    Cheers AC – an excellent piece rebutting the ridiculous article by JSP.

  • Denzil Meyrick

    Typical of this awful woman. My wife suffers from depression, and as you have described, it is no joke. I have always wondered just how la Street-porter ever managed to attain the great heights that she has. I certainly feel down every time I inadvertantly see, hear, or read anything with which she has been involved. As usual Alastair, you have highlighted the preposterous nature of this carbuncle of mediocrity.

  • Chris Michell Heath

    Very good response, Alastair, to the hugely misinformed article on depression by that ugly big-mouth JSP.

  • judith haire

    Thank you so much Alastair for this brilliant article. Hear hear. I left my comments on the Mail website and was appalled to read those by some people who agreed with and supported JSP’s views; I was outraged. I’ve experienced depression and psychosis and was told by a family member that I had gone into hospital “for attention”. JSP’s article is damaging and crass and thank heavens for http://www.time-to-change.org.uk Sadly only 6.5% of uk research money is spent on mental health; this is shameful and we all deserve better
    Thanks again AC.

  • Chris Malvern

    Thank you, once again, for articulating an informed and insightful position on mental health problems. As you point out, it is so important that these issues are discussed frankly and with sensitivity. So many people experiencing depression feel so isolated and alone – negative, ill-informed and fatuous comment helps no-one. JSP, I’m certain, has the capacity to write far better articles than this. It is a great pity that her facile take on this matter was allowed into print.

  • Ben

    Very interesting, very moving, very accurate. You’re an interesting chap Mr Campbell.

  • Jake

    I usually visit your blog expecting to find something to strongly disagree with and ocasionally post strong counter arguments as a bit of political sport.
    Today however I find myself in agreement with you 100%. Janet Street Porter comes across as un unsympathetic bitter old bint and is best left ignored.

  • John Brooks

    Why we disagree on politics. I share your opinion that depression is no laughing matter. As someone who has had a breakdown in 2007 and had depression for many years before and after. The depression will never go away though.

    It has got better with a sympathetic family, friends, a good pyschiatrist, managed through medicine. Though every day has been a struggle. Sometimes it is even hard to do the simplest things. You want nothing to do with the world or even simply get out of bed in the morning.

  • Luke Wilcox

    Alastair – my opinion of you increases by the blog. It’s a shame that such risable opinions of JSP gain credence by being printed by such a risable paper yet sadly it is not a surprise. Thankfully I personally feel that such opinions are held by the aged minority. The majority of the younger, more socially progressive generation do not hold such factless, bigoted views and with the passing of people such as JSP will go such ignorance towards mental health issues. (It can’t come too soon…)

  • Frank

    Alastair,

    I grew up in the 70’s with a mother who had depression, the prejudice we all faced was huge. THANKYOU for this articulate response you speak on behalf of many……..

    Frank

  • Liz Burnett

    Thank you thank you thank you! I myself have very nearly written a piece in response to Ms Street Porter’s ridiculous and under researched article, and am delighted that someone with your profile has done so.

    As you rightly point out, depression can affect anyone at anytime, and it certainly isn’t a condition that anyone of us chooses to be afflicted with. I have spent the last 6 months recovering from a severe bout of depression, and at one point was threatened with being sectioned by my GP if I refused to stay with my family who had essentially ‘rescued me’. Aged 33, being dragged home to live with one’s parents is more than a little embarrassing, and the stigma and shame I felt for my condition and my situation did not help to improve my illness. I STILL find it difficult to see people who I haven’t seen since before my depression for fear of their ‘opinion’.

    Ms Street Porter has completely failed to appreciate that for all those people who suffer from depression, not all of them make it through. And articles such as hers which increase the stigma and the lack of understanding about the illness will do nothing to help people come forward in their hour of need, or prompt those around them to help pull them out of the black cloud back into light.

    I salute everyone who has stood up and told their own personal story of their struggle with the monster that descends and consumes the will to live. We need more people to do this to hopefully save lives and stop others suffering from this horrible condition.

  • Sally

    Thanks Alastair.
    I’ve struggled with depression off and on for past 12 years. One of the big difficulties sufferers face is the shame you feel at not being able to cope.Being unable to openly discuss the condition without facing prejudice hinders many people’s recovery.
    Capable and well-known people discussing it openly is a tremendous breakthrough and Janet SP should be ashamed at belittling their bravery at doing so. “Normalising” the illness is key to helping people seek help and society as a whole accepting mental illness.

  • Badjelly

    As a sufferer of depression, I take the condition 100% seriously and am very aware of the devastation it can cause.

    Although the article was exceptionally misjudged and offence, I do think that JSP was voicing an opinion that is becoming more increasingly common in society. “Opening up” and admitting to “depression” is becoming a headline grabber for z list celebrities.

    It seems to be a pre-requisite if you are appearing on Oprah for example.

    I find this disturbing. It does not remove the stigma of mental illness at all, it becomes a suspect tag stripped of genuine emotion or authenticity.

    Bizarrely it reminds me of when it seemed to be trendy to be black or gay. This too will pass and will be seen for the fallacy that it is.

  • Kitty

    Witch.

  • Mongoose

    Excellent article. Thank you.

    I am an ex-depressive, and like you I have no qualms about speaking out about it, for the reasons you raised and several others. One reason is that I am normally so bouncy and enthusiastic that if people know that I have suffered depression (and on several occasions), it will really bring home to them the fact that it can happen to anyone, no matter what their natural temperament. Depression isn’t just a miserable person becoming more so (and indeed it often manifests as numbness rather than outright misery). It can mean a complete change of general character and outlook.

    I have known people who were clearly depressed, but so afraid to admit it due to possible stigma that they denied they had it and refused to seek medical attention. Anything that anyone does to relieve this awful bind that these people suffer is doing a huge public service.

  • Peter Bolton

    Thank you.

  • Paulette Paris

    Thank you so much for posting this article.

    I live overseas and did not see the Janet Street Porter nonsense when it ran. I am glad i didn’t. I did, however, see then article with Emma Thompson and Marian Keyes – I kept it, to remind me that there are others around like me, who have fought various battles with depression over the years and who continue to fight: sometimes with better results than others.

    As a professional in the entertainment industry, I am always fearful of admitting this ‘weakness’. I am supposed to be terminally happy, always up, always positive. But the pressures, however trivial they seem to someone on the outside, can flip the switch easily, quickly but thankfully not irretrievably. Nevertheless when depression comes the descent is extreme and most times impossible to explain or understand.

    Everything you say about depression is true. I call it my friendly black dog – it follows you around faithfully, most times behaving but other times playing up so badly that you don’t know how to handle it, play it down, quiet the noise, rein it in or stop the damage. Writing really helps to see it for what it is.

    I will check out Mind and Time To Change: anything I can join or do in order to make this feel less like a stigma and more like a treatable illness, I will do.

    Once again thank you. In a strange way you have made my day.
    Regards and respect
    Paulette

  • Teresa

    I read the JSP article in disbelief. My Nana had depression during the second world war, her doctor suggested she take up smoking to help. My Mother has suffered with depression, and her partner, once a senior member of Lloyds of London, will never works again, due to depression. My mother’s partner did not choose to give up his comfy middle-class life, is was a decision forced upon him by his illness. I seriously hope since he had his breakdown, no one has told him all he needs to do is buck up and get a grip.I fear though, since the MoS published this vile attack, the chances of someone giving him such terrible advice have increased. Seeing someone you love struggle through the fog and fear of depression is extremely distressing, for shame JSP, for shame.

  • Mark Mabberley

    I hope your article is more widely read than Ms Porter’s is. Speaking as someone who has suffered with depression for a long time, I have met people with her bigoted attitude. You would not wish depression on anybody, but you know they would change their tune if they ever experienced it themselves.

    As a man, I find her comment about not feeling sorry for men with low self-esteem, insensitive. Fortunately, my GP, who is a woman, is much more sympathetic.

    Thank you Alastair for speaking up on behalf of the rest of us, who do not have your access to the wider world.

  • Hannah

    Thank you very much for this article, I applaud you.
    I work as a social worker in the mental health sector and was incredibly angry when I was told about this latest piece of bile in the Mail. I have long since given up trying to understand what motivates people like Janet Street-Porter to write so dismissively about mental health problems. All it says to me is that she must be devoid of all compassion and has never once seen the real and raw suffering people with mental health problems have to endure. She seems to think it’s a choice or something that is a person’s own faullt. It’s people like her who force people I work with to remain within the mental health system because they are not permitted to re-integrate properly.
    As far as stigma goes, I have seen it all. One of my clients, for example, asked me to accompany him to a job interview as he was not confident he would be able to stand the pressure by himself. When we actually got there, we were met with pitiful stares as if to say “You don’t really think I’ll give you a job, do you?” and eventualy told that they did not find him to be suitable for the position. Just because he had decided to be open and honest and, when asked about it, disclosed he had once been compulsorily detained in hospital.

    I can honestly say that every single person I have so far worked with has made more positive contributions to society than Janet Street-Porter, whose sole purpose in life seems to be reinforcing awful and untrue sterotypes to make the lives of those affected by mental health problems even more difficult.
    I really hope she never has to experience what some of my clients have to go through because, with that attitude of hers, she would not be able to cope.

  • sarah

    I have just spent the morning with a wonderful friend whose husband has had a severe breakdown and who is still suffering from depression. She tells me that friends who have laughed and cried with her as she has struggled and fought for the man she loved, the father of her kids, to recover has helped her to help him no end. What JSP fails to grasp is that her words are not just read, but felt. And felt by people going through times in their lives so bad that they could not have imagined them possible. Thanks for the article – will be making sure I grap a copy of the Mirror for my mate.

  • amy elizabeth

    Thank you.

  • Saul

    Due to its swathes of criticism online, JPS’s article has only served to highlight the ignorance of her views and thus, one hopes, reduce the stigma of mental illness a little more. Well done AC.

  • Liam

    In the late 1990’s I was diagnosed with depression, given medication, and signed off work for a fortnight. Within 3 days of my sick-note being given to my employer I was sacked. When my sick-leave expired I went to sign on for JSA, and my former employer told them I had left my job of my own free will! It was only when I presented the letter (which gave the reason for their sacking me as “You are depressed”) that my claim was allowed, but said former employer still has his company, his bentley, his nice house in the Essex countryside, and probably no qualms about sacking someone with mental health problems and THEN LYING to the Dept. of Employment about why they sacked me!
    I doubt that the toothy Janet has had anything of this kind happen to her, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone!

  • julie OM

    Funnily enough Simon Cowell admitted to Oprah recently that he too suffers from depression.

  • Holly

    Thank you for this.
    Janet Street Porter’s article was disgusting. I work in mental health services – we work so hard to overcome prejudice and stigmatisation that this article perpetuates. I am grateful everyday to people like you who speak out in a way which aids understanding of mental health disorders.
    Personally, my mother had depression whilst I was growing up so I have an understanding from both personal and professional perspectives. I wish this obnoxious woman would gain even the most basic of understanding of depression before writing such rubbish. From my experiences, I can tell her none of the people I work with or indeed my mother would want to feel the way they do in bouts of depression.

  • Juliet Oosthuysen

    Very restrained in the circumstances and brilliantly written. JSP has let herself down – a person who has been known for creativity and pushing the boundaries has succumbed to the temptation of thinking that ‘daring’ to say something unpopular is of the same ilk. It’s not. It’s lazy, reactive and offensive. Julie Burchill seems to be treading the same path – sad really.

  • kathy

    Alistair, While I do not always agree with your blogs, this one is spot on. JSP was out of line to voice such opinions. There is a history of mental illness in my family and whilst I myself have been fortunate to only have odd bouts of feeling down and the world on top of me, I know the effects of depression are devastating. JSP may be right that a few Z list celebreties have jumped on the bandwagon but depression is not something that genuine sufferers have any control over.It is just a fact of their life which they have to cope with and adjust to by whatever means they can. Unfortunately some do not cope and do take their lives and anything that can be done to prevent this happening must be a good thing. Surely letting people know they are not alone in this must be the right thing to do. So in this instance JSP should just keep her opinions to herself.

  • Neil Shepherd

    Alastair,

    Your article is a great response to a truly offensive article written by a truly obnoxious woman, printed in a truly abominable ‘newspaper’.

    On a personal note, you are an inspiration to those suffering from mental illnesses and the work that you do to promote awareness of mental illnesses really is commendable.

    I certainly echo your views about the importance of being open about such illnesses. When those in the public domain such as yourself, Marcus Trescothick and Ronnie O’Sullivan step forward and are open about their own experiences this is very powerful in encouraging other sufferers to acknowledge and tackle their illness.

    Thank you.

  • IK

    My cousin suffers from bi polar and depression.

    One of the main reasons why it spiralled and nearly led to her taking her own life was the fact she was too ashamed to talk about it and express how she she was feeling.

    This was because of the stigma attached and reinforced by Janet Street Porters dangerous, misinformed and ignorant article.

    Open as you are about your illness, not only helps those who sufferer but also helps to inform family and friends – the support of which can be crucial.

    Great article Alistair, thanks for sharing.

  • Angela

    One of the worst things about the Street-Porter article was her glib assertion working-class people just ‘get on’ with life and don’t suffer from depression. This is not true at all. JSP is totally out of touch.

  • Elizabeth

    My mum is standing as a witness in an Employment Tribunal to support a person sacked by employers as she can prove that what they said happened, didn’t. She has been told that the employer’s barrister(!) will be trying to make out she is a lying nut-case. She has experienced depression since my dad died and received some counselling and antidepressants- that is all. Apparently, they cam say this sort of thing in court without any comeback. She is terrified but will still be there on court day.

    And JSP thinks there’s no stigma. Pfft! I also experience depression and am having psychoanalysis at the moment (very useful) and I am so angry at how my mum is bring treated. I worry that the ascendancy of the new centre right will encourage this kind of rubbish more often.

    Thanks very much for your article. More power to your elbow.

  • Anxious Mum

    I don’t often agree with what you say but you are right on the money on this subject.

    I would pay serious money to get rid of this constant and unwelcome monkey on my back!!

  • Graham Jones

    It’s what I’ve come to expect from this cretin of a woman, and from this pathetic excuse for a newspaper. It is the sign of desperation, when you have to sink to the depths of attacking mental health, just to get a bit of attention.
    If she had been constructive in her piece, then there would be some merit. The truth is however, it was a typical right-wing hatchet piece, attacking a sensitive subject, with the blind ignorance of a woman who is desperate to be back on TV.
    This dozy cow is never happy, unless she is attacking someone or something.
    She will crawl back under her rock, and bank the cheque she was payed.
    She is a nobody, who has found herself reduced to writing for a paper, that I wouldn’t even wipe my arse with.
    You wrote with real dignity about it, in The Mirror. By giving people the facts, you have show-up this creep for what she is – a narrow-minded scumbag!

  • Tracy

    I was enraged to hear of her article. Sure, I was simply looking to jump on a trendy bandwagon when I couldn’t get the Baby P stuff out of my head, that I wept all day and all night at the horrors of his death and those of many other children as reported in the papers. My torment at not being able to get any of this out of my head felt ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’…

    Thankfully, my employer was fantastic and gave me the time I needed for doctor and therapist appointments. He would be careful to ensure that I wasn’t overloaded with work and would regularly check in with me to ask how I was feeling.

  • Robert Crosby

    I don’t claim to know anything about depression. I do believe though that Janet Street-Porter is a compulsive self-publicist and attention seeker. Look forward to a host of rash, ill-conceived remarks on any manner of subbjects she doesn’t understand any time soon!

  • penfrocharlie

    Graham Jones

    You do come across as a rather sad,embittered man with just a little too much time on his hands. Is it not possible for you to comment without having to resort to tired cliche-ridden tribalism? Maybe your anal cleansing problems are better solved by the regular application of your manifesto…I’m told there is nothing so well suited.

  • zeireen

    amazing blog piece. very emotional & touching. janet = idiot

  • Christine

    I am currently going through depression and stress. I was saddened that Janet Street Porter showed little empathy or understanding of what it is like. Her attempts to portray depression as a fad don’t make sense at all. So many of us are fighting to keep ourselves together, and hide it from others.
    Alistair Campbell thank you for setting the record straight in the Mirror.

  • Jacquie R

    I hope Janet Street-Porter is reading the comments on your blog today, Alastair. She may like to know that my mother was part of that stoic generation that didn’t complain and just got on with things. She was also a very cheerful and optimistic woman. But she became so depressed in her late seventies she ended up taking her own life.

    Nothing more to say really, except that I wish JSP and similarly opinionated columnists would confine themselves to subjects they understand. They cause great hurt and offence for no other reason than to bolster their egos and careers.

  • Graham Jones

    There’s nothing more pathetic than a daily mail reader, who has to hide behind a pseudonym. But I understand the embarrassment you suffer daily, at the newsagents, where shame is worn as a mask. Or do you send your butler?

  • Colin Morley

    Brilliantly written. Thank you on behalf of myself as well as those with depression who cannot find the energy and motivation to write the words. We may sometimes criticise your politics, Alastair, but we are four square behind you on this issue.

  • Claire

    I haven’t read Janet Street Porter’s article, but it sounds deeply offensive. How any intelligent person can make the claims she does in 2010, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps she feels she is stronger than these other women in the media because she herself has not experienced depression. Stigma about mental illness has diminished a little; she is doing her best to push progression back again. Her views seem to bare the trademark callousness of the Daily Mail. Unfailingly ignorant and santimonious, it always saddens me that the DM’s views seem to represent those of a proportion of people in this country.

  • KatieDoll

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Alastair for writing this article. When I read JSP’s piece I felt physically sick. Members of my family discriminate against me because of my mental illness and she was justifying their beliefs. How will they ever want to understand the truth of my hell when the media is willing to publish such damaging lies?? I hope you read these blog comments because I do want you to know how grateful I am (ignore the ignorant ones further down!) xx

  • rhian777

    I read both articles: very important you made the observations you did A; but have to say, I think JSP was mostly attacking healthy, wealthy women who aren’t really depressed, just ‘stressed’ by things that are part of life’s wear and tear..
    I think she would admit clinical depression/post-natal depression and severe depression are different categories.

  • rhian777

    Important you made those observations in the Mirror to try to continue trying to reframe the way mental health is viewed.
    However I did think JPS’s article wasn#t really attacking those who have clinical, severe or post-natal depression: rather wealthy, healthy women who are ‘stressed’ rather than depressed and cannot deal with the normal things that are part of life’s wear and tear without having a whinge about it!
    I’m sure JPS would see acknowledge if someone was clinically ill and requiring hospitalisation and medical care that they should not be mocked…? Who knows…

  • Caroline

    Elizabeth
    I worked in the Employment Tribunals service until quite recently. As a witness in the proceedings, your mother will be asked to give evidence, sat down at a table, having sworn an oath or affirmed,that she will tell the truth. The Tribunal is not a court as such, with far less procedure, and your mother will read from a statement if one is prepared, and then be asked questions by the respondent (the employer) representative and by the tribunal panel.
    Unless the circumstances of your mothers condition have any bearing on the evidence which she is to give, they should not be brought into the proceedings at all, and some protection is provided by the Human Rights act (the right to respect for private and family life).
    Is the friend represented in the proceedings? If so then the representative should speak up to the Tribunal Judge if they find that your rights are being ignored. I hope it goes well for her.
    I also send my best wishes to all who have posted here. My father suffered from depression, I have had several phases in my life where I have lived in a black tunnel, but for me, the worst time was when my eldest son went through a 2 year depression. I was fortunate enough to be able to recognise it for what it was, and in a position to find (and pay for) a good local private cognitive behavioural therapist. Not everyone is so lucky, which is why those who are brave enough to speak publicly of their experience are welcome.
    My son is now doing very well, and enjoying life at University. But I know that it is very likely that at some point in his life, the symptoms will reappear. I hope that the experience he has had, whilst overcoming this desperate and debilitating illness, has given him the building blocks to do so again.

  • Janet

    As a mother of an 18 year old who was diagnosed with depression six months ago, I know only too well the reality of the strain and difficulty of living wih depression. Thank you Alastair for writing this article as I could identify with so much of what you said. Unless you have experienced or have been close to the kind of despair that my daughter has felt, then you can have no way of knowing the horrors it can mean for getting through each day and night. I’m am surprised and shocked at JS-P’s ignorance on this matter. It is only by talking openly about what it really means to suffer from depression that the perception of this dreadful illness will change.

  • Tim Simmons

    Nice article Alastair….. JSP is a doltish mare!

  • Karen – North Yorkshire

    I think that if you have not lived it then you don’t know what it is like. What right has JSP to comment on such a topic as depression.
    I am a fellow sufferer, but much more able to cope these days. I don’t talk about it, I keep telling myself to work through the darkness. Five years ago when I first started with depression I just wanted to sleep all the time.
    Your response to JSP article was excellent, however you must be losing your touch, you were too soft on her.

  • Wireman

    …”inconsistent, contradictory and very badly argued”..?

    In the Daily Mail?

    Surely not.

  • Celia

    JSP’s article was just one example of the ways in which society as a whole views people whose illness is not glaringly obvious to any onlooker. As someone who has suffered with depression and anxiety for a long time, I have much experience of people thinking I’m “doing it for attention” (actually, my anxiety means the attention only makes it worse). What is worse is being on benefits (note: no job will hire someone who is too frightened to look people in the eye and finds it hard to get out of bed in the morning) and being made to feel like a fraudulent criminal by the authorities who are willing to do anything to stop a person’s benefits if they can in any way get away with it. This is not, of course, just limited to depression, or even to all mental illness. My mother works for the Job Centre and she has seen people with all kinds of physical illnesses and chronic pain etc having their benefits stopped and having to appeal. JSP’s article, as I say, is part of the wider spectrum of the low esteem in which ill and disabled people are held. I wish I could make my voice heard about this, but, oddly enough, my depression and anxiety hold me back.

  • Trevor Malcolm Portsmouth Hampshire

    It won’t take anyone a moment to re-read Mr Campbell’s blog on depression. It’s also to YOUR advantage and it’ll only take you another moment to act upon the instruction that follows

    All based upon the age-old maxim you’d be wiser taking earlier heed of those depression “warning signs” that you have been trudging along, single-handedly, feeling unappreciated and unloved, trying to be too strong and resourceful, for too long. Far too long to support your well-being much longer

    There’s already too much “masked” depression out there, in our culture. Those “smiling depressives” who pretend everything’s okay, when frankly, the truth is otherwise. Sometimes, the complete reverse

    Depression can often be misconstrued a sign of weakness, instead of the first signs of emerging courage and future inner strength

    Without an accurate profile, depression is destined to remain the most misunderstood of psychic disorders

    Besides, correcting false beliefs and assumptions, makes YOU feel good. You get to lend your support for one of the less sexy “good causes” – to at least acknowledge and honour depression does exist

    Despite depression’s ability to lay ANYONE low in mood and non-functioning in action, some reading this, still believe it ” … can never happen to them. Nor to any of their family members, work colleagues, anyone they might know or care about … ”

    Wrong, regret you’re wrong, sorry

    Depression holds no “respect” for those it chooses as its next victim. Regardless of their worldly status, their fame, their wealth, their friends and loved ones

    The good news? Appropriate help and treatments, resources, information DO exist, and the movement towards a more relaxed and open, knowledgeable approach to depression gathers pace and momentum

    Fun to find out, surely? Spreading the word among your friends and colleagues, some of whom, I predict with certainty, are already sufferers. It’s just they don’t feel comfortable enough, telling you about it. They think you won’t understand and think less of them, as a result

    Your friends who, at present, are “suffering in silence” – even afraid you’ll find out that their smiling facade might be fraudulent

    Often, depressives do alot for other people, without expecting anything in return. This fulfils their basic human needs for Growth and for Contribution – otherwise, many would at times end up feeling ” … Life’s not worth the hassles of living”

    Help them find out more, please. Or you, too, risk dying, still enslaved to your own prejudices, false judgements and pig-ignorance

    Simply spread the word. Rewarding, too. You will feel you’ve made some difference. Maybe, it’ll seem smallish, but that’s how easy a first step needs to be, before folks like you and me commit to taking it

    Reading comments inspired by this blog, only fools would underestimate the courage you’ll need before you’re comfortable sharing such lived experiences as the effects of severe depression

    Once you’ve lived through and survived that much inner turmoil, what’s such a sufferer likely to say worth hearing, exactly? What value does NHS Mental Healthcare bestow upon clinical input from “psychiatric system survivors” or service-users?

    Listen up, hear this, albeit NOT, regrettably, from an NHS patient …

    “ … Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society. It is a goal and an essential part of my life. A kind of Destiny. Whoever is in distress can call on me. I will come running, wherever they are …”

    Wasn’t this lofty a level of need to selflessly contribute and make a difference, uttered back in June 1997? Yet, still an expression whose power has never been equalled, let alone bettered since. I remain sceptical Princess Diana’s words ever will be

    Meanwhile, the “get a grip, stiff upper-lip, Dunkirk Spirit” approach often serves depressives as balefully as conventional medical interventions. One bulimic sufferer whose diurnal mood swings grew so severe and extreme that they would, in her brother Earl Spencer’s words, “regularly reduced her to tearful despair”

    Had the Princess Diana not perished in a Paris car accident, it’s an alluring thought wondering which “good causes” she might be keenly promoting now – perhaps, those closest to her heart, drawing on her own lived experiences, on behalf of those she felt connected to as fellow-sufferers

    After all, you can never over-estimate the media clout contribution of a high-profile public figure, as Mr Campbell himself has repeatedly proven. Especially so for the less sleek, under-resourced and unglamorous causes. For example, in helping a financially beleaguered charity raise its profile and increase public awareness of the results it achieves. That, in turn, can make raising donations and sponsorship monies less daunting for the rest of us

    TM ——-

    ————–

  • Laura Bolton

    Just a brief thank you message from someone who was left both angered and not a little shaken by Janet Street-Porter’s article on depression. I had assumed attitudes like this were long gone. Your reply was of great help to me – thank you, and please keep your allegiance with Time to Change; you are a valuable and eloquent advocate.

    Respectfully,

    L Bolton

  • penfrocharlie

    Seems like my last offering was pulled by the moderators so I’ll try again.

    Not much difference between a pseudonym and a man called Jones,is there? Never mind, I’ll send my butler round to help you get that outsize chip off your shoulder.Toodlepip!

  • Steve R

    Good blog, I thought her piece a little crass, she obviously unaware of the scourge of depression. Been there and hopefully never again. In fairness to Mail though they have covered the other side of the problem in other items over this week, so please for once give a little credit, or have you not seen the articles?

  • Quietzapple

    Janet Street-Porter is quite right that some regard depression as a fashion accessory, just as they do mouthing off in ignorance. Invite me to her parties, or those walks where she tries to distance herself from her feelings . . .

    Don’t agree, Alastair, that stigma associated with mental illness or depression is worse than the complaints.

    Depends on whose parties you’re avoiding, perhaps.

  • Graham Jones

    We live in a complex world, where any of us could be struck down by mental illness at any stage in our life, and should be more mindful of other people, who have these problems.
    It is also right that when people write such articles, showing a lack of understanding and lack of compassion, they should be brought to task over it. Some of us felt betrayed, that someone with a public profile, was callous enough to go for such an easy target in society.
    AC’s article in The Mirror, by contrast, was well informed and authoritative, and it dealt with the ignorance in our society, from his experience of meeting people who have suffered in this way.
    It is clear that some people are beyond reach, but I will hold out hope they come to see things differently, and that they never suffer from anything as debilitating as mental illness.
    I hope that one day, we can all see our way to dealing with mental illness in the workplace,in the same manner that alcoholism is now dealt. Once upon a time alcohol abuse was seen in the sama way, but now major companies deal with it as an illness, that is treatable. Mental illness is treatable, and I have witnessed how a friend has dealt with it, and stay in a high pressured job.
    It would be good, if Janet were to go and speak to people, who have experienced mental illness; and also those in the medical profession who help people to deal with it.
    Maybe she would then learn something, and could try to educate the readers of the Daily Mail.

  • Matthew

    Really disappointed by JSPs article. I’d always rather admired her no holds barred no nonsense brand of feminism and both my wife a daughter read her book ‘Life’s too F***ing Short’.

    Alistair you are spot on with your rebuttal. What people like JSP fail to understand is that depression is an illness – not some kind of lifestyle choice. Moreover, depression is not the same as feeling a bit down. That’s rather like saying that a headache is the same as a brain tumour.

    I note that her article has over 350 comments and I didn’t see many supporting her position!

  • Cheryl

    Thank you for piece about JSP article on depression. I read the article this morning and it left me feeling disgusted and numb. I have suffered from depression for many years and was finally diagnosed with clinical depression 2 years ago, last year I spent time in a psychiatric hospital and have been very close to the edge. I have spent my years battling to stay in my job and have a so called ‘normal’ life and finally things are starting to get better. I know there will probably be low points but thanks to the support of my GP and Mental Health team I have got the tools and the right medication to get me through. I am 34 and depression is certainly not something I would choose as JSP would have the public believe. We are supposed to be breaking down the barriers of depression so the public are informed about this debilitating illness and not putting them up as JSP has with her non factual piece of drivel and I only hope that the readers of the Mail have the sense to see her opinions for what they really are discriminating, misguided and insensitive.

  • Tony Murphy

    It beggars belief that even the Daily Mail could print such ill-informed and potentially damaging musings of a ‘celebrity’ columnist.

    Her views are up there with those of Tom Cruise, who unfortunately has a far greater profile, and who’s outrageous views on post-natal depression were widely publicised a wee while back.

    I work in general practice and would wholeheartedly agree with Alastair’s reply. In particular, that men are less likely to seek help, and often wait far too long before coming to see their doctor.

    I haven’t read any of the Mail’s follow-up to this article and whatever complaints they received. They shouldn’t have printed this nonsense in the first place.

    Tony Murphy

  • Steve brundish

    Jant Street Porter is a symptom of our age where journalists are expected to come up with interesting copy week after week. The result is a rage agaisnt successful people who seem to have everything wuho then complain of stress. With this she may have a point, but her piece goes off at a tangent making statemetns she clearly knows nothing about. For instance claiming that working class people in Africa dont complain of depression. How would she know. Yes they get on with things becuse they have no choice but many of them will still suffer from stress and mental illness made worse by thier poverty. The patronising attitude of someone who cant relate to people in different circumstances beggars belief. Janet Street Porter should think twice before she knocks up her next article as sad efforts like this only deminish her own reputation as someone who may write something worth reading.

  • Richard Burnell

    In her Daily Mail article JSP reinforces the prevailing bias against anyone said to be “ill” who does not display obvious physical symptoms of illness or accident…..or have cancer. Mental health services are run down and shambolic. And things will get much worse as spending cuts take hold.

    Successive governments have ignored the huge mental health problems which affect 20% of us.

    Your brave observations on the subject are to be applauded, but unfortunately the tabloids would rather sneer tahn take such an issue seriously.

  • Sheenagh Pugh

    I would be massively depressed if I thought I were even one-tenth as stupid as Janet Street-Porter.

    It never fails, does it – anyone who writes for the Daily Vile is liable to be an ill-informed bigot.