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Good to see Times and Guardian going big on mental health

Posted on 11 January 2011 | 8:01am

Tomorrow I am speaking at a dinner at Nottingham University to raise funds for Mental Health Research UK. Now you’ve heard of Cancer Research. You’ve heard of Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, and if you are very wealthy you still have time to be one of the 50 donors giving £50k to celebrate the charity’s 50th anniversary.

But Mental Health Research UK struggles to get profile and struggles to get funds. For every £1000 spent on cancer research, £26 is spent on mental health research. Yet one in four people will suffer from a mental illness at some time in their lives. There is a huge cost to the economy and to people’s lives, both sufferers and their families.

A report in The Guardian today suggests the one in four figure may be a conservative estimate when considering women and mental health. Good to see it on the front page, because the more open we are about mental illness, the easier it is to raise the funds and debate the issues in a way that better informs public debate.

The Times does a six page spread on men and depression today to coincide new guidance being published by Mind and the Men’s Health Forum. Writer Tim Lott, academic John Sutherland, comedian David Baddiel and journalist Robert Crampton all have lengthy articles in the Times on their depression. I am in there too, and below is the article I wrote in full.

‘A counsellor I know told me that her busiest times are the week before Christmas and the week after the New Year. She said depression seems to rise at times when the pressures are all to be jolly (Christmas) and optimistic (New Year) but the real feelings of many are neither.

I understand that totally. Why, I have asked myself often, and asked psychiatrists too, did I feel depressed on the night of Labour’s 1997 landslide victory? Answer, possibly, because of the pressure to feel the same way as you think everyone else around you seems to be feeling. Better answer, perhaps, is that there doesn’t need to be an answer. For depressives, depression just is, like the weather. Some days good, some days bad. Some days sunshine, some days rain.

If you read my diaries (volume 2, Power and the People, out later this month, plug over) you will spot a trend which seems to confirm the counsellor’s view that Christmas and New Year are depressive hotspots. This year all was well, and still is. That makes it hard to describe depression for others. I compare it with women and childbirth. How could you possibly go through that again after doing it once? Because pain has no memory. I find it is the same with depression. When I am not depressed it is hard for me to explain what it is like. I can’t really remember. The best I can do is to say it is like being dead and alive at the same time. You feel empty. Energy supplies are low. Getting out of bed is a struggle. Seeing the good things in your life, though your rational mind knows there are plenty, seems impossible. Time, which normally flies, seems to take forever to pass.

Whenever a depressive cloud floats in and takes over my mind, my partner Fiona tends to ask ‘what triggered it?’ It is hard to tell. As for dealing with it, the main thing I have learned is to hold onto the insight that, for me at least, it will pass. It usually takes a few days. Sometimes, if it goes on longer, it requires medication and though I don’t like taking anti-depressives, I have adopted a ‘needs must’ approach.

All depressives will be different and I can only speak for myself. I do find exercise helps. I have also noticed a decline in the frequency of my depressive bouts since writing a novel about mental illness, All in the Mind. I think there was something therapeutic about trying to find creative expression for some of the more negative experiences of my life. Openness helps. So has the reaction of others who said it helped them understand their own depressions and that of loved ones.

Indeed I think we would all be helped, depressives and non-depressives alike, if we were more open about mental health generally. We all have it, the same as we all have physical health. If we have flu, we have no qualms about saying so. If we break a leg, it is clear for all to see. If a friend or relative has cancer, we vaguely know how to respond. Yet mental illness remains something of a taboo. In my work with the Time to Change campaign I have met mentally ill people who say the stigma caused by that taboo is sometimes worse than the symptoms.

I was very lucky to have had a succession of bosses who were broadly sympathetic to mental health issues. After I had a breakdown, having left the Mirror for Today newspaper, Richard Stott, my old boss at the Mirror, took me back. When Tony Blair asked me to work for him, I told him in detail about my breakdown, my drink problem and my depressions. ‘I’m not bothered if you’re not bothered,’ he said. ‘What if I’m bothered?’ I said. ‘I’m still not bothered.’ A lot of employers could learn from that.

I only once ducked out of a briefing because I felt too low, and my deputy stepped in. But for many, it is far easier to phone in and say you have flu, or that your daughter or mum needs a lift to a hospital appointment, than to admit the truth. Men also find it far harder than women, for some reason, to admit to a GP that they have depression. But the fact of concealment, and the fear of the reaction, merely adds to the sense of this being a taboo subject.

For people like me, Stephen Fry, or Ruby Wax, being open is not that hard. We’re not short of options on the professional front. But I totally understand why, filling in a job application form to be a teacher or a nurse, or as a young graduate starting out on the career ladder, someone might think twice about admitting to depression. Not because they think themselves incapable of doing the job. But because they are unsure how the employer will react. We’d all be better off if we could all be more open.’

  • Anonymous

    Excellent. For too long mental illness has been a taboo subject causing unease and embarrassment. It’s appalling that so little is spent on mental health research and this situation has to change for all our sakes. OK it’s not the easiest thing to admit you’ve got/had mental illness but once you do talk about it you find so much support and empathy and I quite agree that one in four is a conservative estimate of the numbers experiencing mental health problems. Forget the bank bonuses, plough the money into mental health research.

  • Jayne2000

    Good piece. We all face anxiety or stress at some point in our lives, but we’re not always open to admitting it for fear of what others may think about us. The ‘they can’t cope’ syndrome.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Would it be a good idea to publish a collection of your best blogs on this site as a book with proceeds going to Mental Health Research UK?
    I spent my early childhood next to mental hospital as my mother was the head of nutrition in it. So I have been aware of the problem all my life.

  • Sarah Dodds

    Greart piece that set me thinking…
    I’ve been teaching for 15 years. In that time I have known many parents who have let the school know that their children need extra support because of bereavement, illness, disability, unemployment, seperation, divorce, having a baby, moving house….anything in the family that results in stress.
    NEVER in 15 years have I had any parent ask for help for a child because of mental illness in the family. Looking at the 1 in 4 figure above, that now shocks me. Just how many children in how many families must be struggling to cope at school as a result? Is the assumption from parents that we will fill in a child protection form and send it straight off to social services? Would teachers assume that is what should be done? It speaks volumes about the powerful stigma attached to mental illness in this country.
    Sad also to note that having been trained up to my eyeballs in how to spot kids who are abused, autistic, ADHT, dyslexic, etc etc I have not received a seconds training in how to spot and then help kids who might have a mental illness, or a predisposition to such. It just can’t be right.

  • Phoebe16

    Its been good for the rest of us that AC has been so open – I don’t tell everyone that I had a pretty serious episode of depression because either they think I won’t be up to my job (my employer) or that they will have to tiptoe round me (some friends). But it makes my enlightened friends and colleagues (and me to some extent) remember that depression is not an illness suffered by weak, inadequate or otherwise hopeless people.

  • Robert

    Yes, knowing triggers is important.

    More so, perhaps, is realising one is drawing back the bowstring.

  • Gilliebc

    Superb blog Mr. Campbell, the subject of depression is something I understand only too well and am able to completely empathize with. In my opinion I think it must be much more difficult for a man to “own up” to suffering from depression for obvious, men are supposed to be the stronger sex, reasons and my heart goes out to any man suffering in that way.
    The usual response from the average person on hearing about someone they know having depression, is to say “what have they got to be
    depressed about” The average person hasn’t got a clue, but worse than that it seems to make them quite cross. I think it will be many years before that attitude changes and for a good many people they will never understand because they don’t want to.
    depressed about”

  • Jacquie R

    Compassionate and illuminating piece about something that is so fundamental to human well being. But from my own experience, and that of those around me, having the right professional help is crucial. On several occasions I’ve seen people stagnate or decline through undertaking either third rate or inappropriate therapy, only to improve immeasurably on finding more suitable treatment. Perhaps more people should be aware of this.

  • Great blog post. Years ago when my GP could clearly see I was depressed – even though I had gone in to the consulting room with a sprained ankle – she signed me off work, mentioning the sprain on the form, but not the depression. I told my news editor myself what the real reason was for my time off. If a doctor won’t speak those embarrassing words, even if I’m willing to, then we have a hell of a lot of work to do yet.
    I now understand that mental illness presaged my chronic physical illness. We in the West have a really long way to go before we fully understand the holistic and complex nature of disease, however we define it in its respective “box”.

  • Elizabeth Reed

    You may be interested to learn what happened to a group of seriously mentally ill young women in an NHS hospital in Central London in the 1960s and 1970s.
    Please see and the associated blog

  • Greg_Allen

    Alistair – if you acted for Ireland in relation to the bond markets, the ecb and Angela Merkel ..could it be the case that you would cure a Nation’s depression..
    I love your open mind and always feel your own self criticism was not capable of being concurred with by any er.. sane person (!). It is a bit like my mother who is 84 ..telling me she is forgetful.. so I had to say …but if you were, how would you remember ..that sort of thing.

  • Ehtch

    A not well known fact is more people go nuts in the winter, due to reduced sunlight producing vitamin D. Some people need it more than others, more than oily fish can simply supply. Tablet substitutes is the only answer for our modern indoor lives, non-in the fields ploughing lives.

  • Ehtch

    Gene Tierney, talking about her dabbling with the edge, of sanity,

  • Quinney

    Alastair, brilliant on this issue as you always are. My employer is now putting more focus on Mental Health issues, as you say it’s still a taboo subject espiecially amongst men.

  • Kate

    Well said!

    I absolutely recommend ‘All In the Mind’ to everyone – a moving and insightful novel.

    All best wishes with the fund-raising efforts.

  • Richard

    Deep respect for your work. and candour in respect of this illness, so poorly attended to by the NHS. The most worthy of causes.

  • Anna

    Excellent post, AC.

    One of the problems about depression in particular is that the word is also used in common speech to mean ‘fedupness’. Clinical depression is a very different beast from the depression/fedupness that we all feel from time to time. That’s why depressives are cheerfully told by the ignorant to ‘snap out of it’ – advice you would never give to a schizophrenia sufferer for example. We really need another term for clinical depression and also clinical anxiety which is the other side of the depressive coin. ‘Bi-polar disease’ is now used to describe what was known as ‘manic depression’; but there is no term to describe the ‘black dog’ that will allow the general public understand the nature of the illness.

    Understanding is essential, as is skilled medical/psychaitric help and, possibly, medication. Self-help is not really possible when you are in the grip of depression: it paralyses the will. But I do believe that self-help is possible when you are in a less troubled state of mind. Am I allowed to plug a book? (Delete this if I’m not.) Having suffered for years from depression and anxiety, culmination in a major breakdown 11 years ago, I read ‘Change for the Better’ by Elizabeth Wilde Mccormick. Through a series of questions, she helps you understand the influences that have shaped your personality and your tendency to anxiety/depression. Through understanding you gain control. It is not untrue to say that the book changed my life. I am calmer, medication free, more serene and more confident than I have ever been in my life. This might not work for everyone, so good luck, AC, in your campaign to raise awareness and funds for mental health research.

  • Laura Payne

    From my study of psychotherapy the realms of depression always brings up the whole nature versus nurture debate. How much is the way we respond from early childhood to life’s miseries or are some of us just born with the propensity for depression like those who have more of a genetic disposition to being overweight? How much of it is not what is All In The Mind but what is in the brain? In my work, and from my own experience, I am increasingly wondering if there is a strong link with how some people process adrenalin – and whether too much kicks off the black dog cycle – hence your ‘crash’, Ali, after the high of the 1997 election and its build-up during the pressurised last few days to that night. For many the need to chase this ‘buzz’ also leads to excessive coffee drinking and caffeine chasing, and the descent into booze and drugs, compounding the problem. Much more study is needed into the whole cycle that is represented by the term mental health.

  • Nicky

    Very thought-provoking. We have a tendency (as a society) to sweep depression under the carpet, and it’s very damaging. Thanks Alastair for continuing to highlight this.

  • Poppy

    Great point! We need a whole-hearted cultural change! We need to drop the stigma associated with mental health and properly understand and appreciate the causes and consequences of the illness. The Norwegian Prime Minister Bondevik took leave for Depression twice and recieved support from the electorate. He helped to alter public perceptions of depression, especially for men. Provides a great example!

  • Thalia

    This is a truly great article Mr. Campbell, years ago my GP said, that every single person has a depressive period in their lives, be it reactionel depression or clinical depression. It is so sad that there is still shame and taboo around any mental illness , our brains do disfunction in the same way any other of our organs do. No questions a person who suffers from a kidney disease or chronic acne, in fact there is much sympathy and support available.
    Well done Mr. Campbell for adding to the foundation of the house of tolerance and compassion towards brain dysfunctions.

  • Teresa

    My Mom suffers with depression, more so at this time of year, she was only saying the other day that she’s sure it’s because when she was seven years old in 1946 around this time of year, she had to come and live in England from Ireland as her Dad had come over a few months before and found work. She remembers sobbing and holding on to her Uncles legs as her Mom was trying to get her on the boat, and she’s sure that’s what triggers it.
    She had a nervous breakdown in 1969 and she ended up having electric shock treatment, which destroyed a lot of her memories of her four children growing up, which over the last 8 years or so have slowly started to come back. Whereas now people are offered medication and therapy and not that awful treatment, it took away memories she will probably never get back.

  • Duncan Phipp-MacIntyre

    I am reassured by your insight and experience. It is a tragic waste of life that so few are willing or able to be candid with their illness and so few are willing to accept this illness in others.

  • Ehtch

    Brilliant depiction of the state of mind, better known as madness, by the great Dylan Thomas,

  • Ehtch

    In my younger life, I was priviliged to work as a Hospital Porter for two years at St. Davids’ Hospital/asylum, Carmarthen.

    For me, many lifetimes of wisdom was learnt there, to seen how the mind can go to places where it shouldn’t. And people of all backgrounds and flavour.

  • Illness, disease, mental disorder, mood disorder if not so many killed by Adholfs men then I could laugh. The mental health fascists of a no choice service, satis, satis we require the facts Mr Campbell.

    Enough this hoddy noddy bull about mental illness. Burnout is a reality, but to make it into a disease? Illness? get real you have the money to rest while the poor are crushed into a chemical world of sees for many ruined and sent to a dustbin.

    Psychiatry is now so ashamed that refrain from use of the word, trying desperate to con us all with their legitimate years of med school introducing themselves to be doctors and they are all good doctors for they forget ever engage that training.

    When understand no application is given to those years of training we must ask what is the point? Take the pills or injection and shut up, that is our mental health system.

    Sit in ward Mr Campbell, when you see dead exit from deliberate overdose of chemical, might then support pro choice helpful health care. No one is ever that insane or confused refuse pseudo-science. When a toxicology report refuses acknowledge psychiatric drugs be a cause of death, than never expect any investigation. Entire mental health system is and Ireland is well informed these days, UK your sick.

    Masters & Overseers no more whip, please no more enslavement.

  • GSK pulled out of depression research last year, and were first of many I suspect to admit that depression is outside domain of that what we would want to believe. SSRIs been a great fad, genuine sorry to find however these once super drugs, if trust marketing of them are toxic our environment and caused many pass life.

    If examine the self, find plenty of ways remove lows & highs or functionality of is unwanted in your life. Try getting a Pharmaceutical PLC to make money from a supermarket, educational establishment, keep fit, where I ask is clinical in all of this? Regulate supplements and vitamins! Then own up about mental health benefits of a good diet from those regulated products.

    Would you add a stimulant to your diet if maniac mood were an issue? Doctor or their specialists at psychiatry ever give you that data? Never, they only feed you pills and injections. Food for thought, change your mind? Need a light, now there is a bright idea., but will is what you require to change that from dark to light. Munch on that.

    End chemical slavery. Stop the abuse of a no choice service.

  • Long back from a meeting “we gave five million to social work for homeless” was statement I recall. Did they build any homes? No. Did they speak to any social housing landlords? No. Did they offer out the five million as a loan to help build homes? No. Did they buy land, clean land up of toxic waste, demolition any of that to progress actual building of homes for homeless? No. Possible to build homes for five million? Maybe? Probable? I could, if the local authority donated land.

    Five Million went to social services, wages… Pay people manage homeless citizens, and almost forgot, drug addiction and several other areas of obvious are social work projects. Marketing, a con, money was a prop, was never solve a problem. Citizens require homes, build homes, end of a problem; less homelessness and more social work time for addiction.

    With mental health, never solve the problem and look at the host of services us commodity vassals, we slaves keep in service its huge!

    Prozac might be cheap until add up entire cost of I doubt anyone ever done. Ok, so maybe many function and from that I define those employment. Although many more be on sickness benefit.

    Research? What are we researching and why donate large sums to that what when questioned is found be flawed science, human experimentation
    of has some of the most horrific side effects. Myself I was almost killed, drug was unsuitable, no proper medical examination [never is], nurse refused accept a low heart rate, drug given was with warning & without consent, without conversation advise of the dangers.

    Throwing money away at clinical when possible examine global picture, academic psychopaths with more money than sense, get it? Is this truly solving any health problem throwing finances at what? What are they researching?

    Blog owner, myself all events of mental health functionality that don’t work, or didn’t work, who is past tense?

    For my views been banned at See Me, Voices of Experience, SAMH closed down their Facebook site. Bi-Polar Scotland closed down their Facebook site. Depression Alliance banned oneself. This a message, pharmaceutical
    and friends are wrong?

    Positive views from a pro-choice campaign seen a hostile negative response from a base without facts, theory only of has failed many and many demand a true voice.

    End covert and force drugging. End chemical Slavery.

  • Michelle

    i so so wish i could sit and meet with you Alistair, for you to interpret my severe feelings of depression in such a way for the ones responsible to ”trigger” it, to understand how much irreparable damage they have caused. Its too difficult for me to put into even a summary, but your interpretations come across as VERY understandable, especially to those that would have any patience to even read a mental health issue article.

    I once had a life thriving with optimism, passion and community values to the point i would promote local ”initiatives” to improve our quality of life and ways of thinkin here in east manchester, such as neighbour nuisance policies, anti social behavoiur strategies, supporting new deal for communities into changing the way of thinking, attempt to encourage and improve our quality of life. since my 100% commitment into supporting Regeneration & New deal for community initiatives and being such a tolerant, caring, active & social member of my community for many many many years, i feel by trying to abide by ”procedures” etc, it has worked out becoming my enemy and somehow has ended up actually working against my struggle to prevent or STOP neighbour nuisance and has only endeavoured to encourage “profit over people” – and a relapse in my mental health because of a court case that had to be discontinued because of LACK OF FUNDING.

    When i went for help, the pattern occured again, i conformed and at the end of it all was told… ”because of FUNDING… unfortunately we can’t deal with this you’d have to try elsewhere” etc..

    i am so so glad you’ve stated how, basically, celebrity or high profile people have many options on the professional front, BUT, they also have the option of just ‘going to re-hab’ which it seems as though that happens quite quickly and isn’t particularly frowned upon – however for jo public it isn’t anywhere near as simple as being whizzed into rehab for a while to recouperate, its a damn hard struggle just to be assessed let alone actually receive any adequate treatement, usually of course because of LACK OF FUNDS, its rare to recieve any help when you need it most.

    i hope this makes sense Alistair? and i still so so wish you or someone with writing skills, could interpret MY LIFE for at least the anti social behaviourial BUSINESS to be held accountable, if not legally – due to lack of funding (which is why the court case had to be discontinued) but at the very least MORALLY, although i have now found that morals and principles don’t particularly count for anything :-(.

    its so shameful someone can purchase a property, rent or sell it to a private business, for that business to take advantage of and exploit some kind of law loopholes, get government funding support and upkeep for the business, not have any duty of care to the community they move to – not even morally – to exploit public services (eg, police) to be allowed to continue making mistakes that impact on other poeple out of their vacinity, then when the community attempt to ‘follow the strategies & procedures’ put in place to supposedly aid and benefit THE COMMUNITY, there is a high danger of being negatively labelled & being fobbed off or treated very differently, once you become broken down because of following procedures and trying out different strategies you’ve previously followed haven’t worked etc,

    i do feel like i have been used in an experiment, the business thrived at my personal well being, the ‘strategies & initiatives’ i supported suceeded, at the loss of my personal well being, i suppose simply put, i feel like i am just merely collateral damage!

    i would totally appreciate ANYONE that could help me make other communities aware that businesses like this can open ANYWHERE they want to and basically get paid to let police carry out much of their work.

    ANYONE connected to the respect agenda and anything really that seems relevantly interested or connected with anti social behaviour, mental health, profit before people, good neighbouring, neighbourhood watch, crime prevention, “special needs” funding, neighbour nuisance organisations – ANYONE with any genuine passion for community and/or mental health issues – if they could take a small amount of their time to make communities aware of what I have had to endure over several years only to be finally thwarted by LACK OF FUNDING, which, i feel, will sadly eventually lead to a justifiable ‘CBA’ attitude amongst mental health and communities in general.


  • Michelle

    i agree it is an illuminating article too.sometimes though, the fear of pure inadequacy stops you from attempting to seek help in the first place because when you’re depressed anyway, from my experience, you don’t feel worthy of any help, let alone third rate.

  • Michelle

    yes gilliebc, i think people won’t understand because they don’t want to be depressed too by listening to or about or associating with depression,

    i’m sure some neanderthals still think you can ”catch” it! lol!

    i think depression should be treated like a cancer because it can be a malignant or benign type of thing and if its identified earlier then hopefully it can be stopped from spreading in that individual, eg, to further onto suicide.

  • Michelle

    yes gilliebc, i think people won’t understand because they don’t want to be depressed too by listening to or about or associating with depression,

    i’m sure some neanderthals still think you can ”catch” it! lol!

    i think depression should be treated like a cancer because it can be a malignant or benign type of thing and if its identified earlier then hopefully it can be stopped from spreading in that individual, eg, to further onto suicide.