Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

Britain needs a few MPs like Canada’s Bob Rae to help break down stigma and taboo of mental illness

Posted on 2 February 2012 | 11:02am

I am on the sofa with Michael Portillo tonight (if you get my drift) listening to the wit and wisdom of Andrew Neil, presenter of the BBC1 This Week show.

We will doubtless be chatting banks and bankers, Dave and Ed, and all the stuff you’d expect of a political programme looking at some of the week’s big issues.

But on the back of my publishing The Happy Depressive, the programme asked me to make a little film to set up a discussion with Michael and my fellow depressive and Time to Change campaigner Ruby Wax on the subject of mental illness and public life.

It is not a new subject for me and my argument will be familiar to regular visitors here – that there is stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness, that public figures speaking out about it helps break it down, but that public figures tend not to because of the stigma and taboo … and so the vicious circle keeps on turning.

When I tweeted about it this morning, a Candadian follower called Mike Gibbs reminded me of his country’s liberal leader Bob Rae, the ex-Premier of Ontario, who has been open about his own battles with depression, and has led other Canadian politicians to similar openness. Canada’s PM Stephen Harper also made a powerful speech on the subject following the suicide of one of his MPs, Dave Batters.

So as doubtless some of you may be fed up of hearing about me on the subject, today’s blog is given over henceforth to Susan Delacourt, a Canadian journalist, writing last November about Bob Rae.I make the point tonight that whilst I understand MPs fearing being open about having mental health problems, I have found nothing but understanding from both public and media. It looks to me like Bob Rae has a similar experience.

With thanks to her and Mike Gibbs, and above all perhaps to Bob Rae, here is her piece, and a powerful speech by Mr Rae. And here is another piece Susan has kindly sent me, more broadly on the subject of depression and politics in Canada.

  • Good article, one small correction: Bob Rae is the former premier of Ontario (province) not Ottawa (city).

  • Anonymous

    Looking forward to the show. I hope Andrew Neil (the best interviewer in politics) can challenge the impregnable Campbell defence on Labour. Questions I’d like to hear are: Is Ed the man for the job, can he win the next election, if not him who, what do you think of the Darling revelations, David Miliband’s latest interventions. Is labour’s new strategy working? And the best one, the line of enquiry about cuts and borrowing that Neil has bamboozled Burnham, Umuna (not that its difficult in either case) and that only Alan AJ Johnson has managed to weather.

    • Michele

      You’ve missed your vocation reaguns :-s   < symbols make a relevant emotican elsewhere.

      Friends in the uber-expensive part of Clapham said this week that they wish Umuna had stood in their constituency (it's close to  where he is).  They're becoming ex-LibDem.

  • Janiete

    Stake your claim to half of the sofa Alastair, for some reason Michael Portillo doesn’t seem to observe the usual English allocation of personal space, perthaps it’s a mediterranean thing.

    Andrew Neil, wit and wisdom? Are you sure?

  • Anonymous

    This seems a good place to raise this. There is still a lot of work to do on attitudes to mental health.

    James Delingpole, one of the more extreme fringe bloggers on the telegraph has a blog post yesterday, the main focus of which is “benefit scroungers”, but that isn’t the bit I want to raise.

    I want to raise the staggering hypocrisy of his statement about a woman suffering bipolar and anxiety disorder. Delingpole basically says this is not a disorder, that everyone gets ups and downs and anxiety. He has said similar things about chronic fatigue and ME, despite admitting suffering from a “similar illness”.

    Now the point is Delingpole (climate change sceptic) was interviewed on BBC by scientist Paul Nurse. Most neutrals would agree Nurse gave him a right kicking. Delingpole had to abandon the interview after an hour or so due to his illness. Then after a long break he came back to it, for more kicking.

    The bit that makes me mad is, this is fine if you are a journalist. But its not fine if you work on a factory production lime, or manning the tills in Pret. You will get a lot more tired (says a vet of physical and professional work) in physical work and most importantly you will NOT be allowed to take 1 hour breaks as and when you feel like it.

    This is why the working class and sufferers of such diseases need strong voices to stick up for them.

  • gillian currie

    Get over yourselves. The only people who think there is taboo and stigma
    on mental illness is those who claim mental illness. (And write and speak
    endlessly on the subject, boring those who are not mentally ill to wish they
    were elsewhere, somewhere sane, where most people are).                                                                                     

  • Carmel

    What a stupid thing to say. Of course people with mental health issues are the ones who notice the stigma. If you were gay would you not notice the issues they face. I’m pleased for you that you have no idea what this is like. People like Alastair Campbell, Ruby Wax etc are fantastic ambassators for people who are frightened and stigmatised by depression. Alastair is my role model on this, it’s good to have someone to learn from. How could standing up very honestly and openly about depression be a bad thing?

    No one wants depression. I wouldn’t wish it on someone I despised even.

    The person who needs to get over themselves is YOU. If you want to close your eyes and ears to mental illness suit yourself but we who have this have as much a right to talk and you have to buty your head in the sand.

    Keep talking about this and keep explaining Alastair, every time you do a little bit of the stigma and taboo dies.

    Thank you.

  • Michele

    I love Ruby Wax talking real life, she used to do a wonderful late night programme with people around a dining table eating while talking about their doubts and insecurities and why some force themselves to be extrovert.
    Julian Clary was especially moving.

  • Michele

    Bet that burp burned eh?

  • Chris lancashire

    gillian currie: how absolutely refreshing and courageous. Mr Campbell has been banging on about this for ages. You are, of course, absolutely right, Mr Campbell is creating non-existent windmills against which to tilt and most of the sycophants on this site go along with it.

  • Jv

    Hi Alistar, I am trying to get the offences off my CRB check-simply because they were committed while I was mentally ill.
    My MP has been no help!!
    I’m so happy that Gillian Currie has not suffered mental illness problems.  I have suffered for the past 25 years from Bi-polar disorder, suffered being the key word.  I am an honest hard working charitable person.  The illness I have has two sides, the hyper-mania as dumped me in prison, twice, and on the other side long long hours of despair and no hope, afraid to leave the house and thoughts of suicide.  The bad times were when I was a young man and un-treated.  In my second spell in prison my allocated probation officer spotted in signs of bi-polar and got me out of prison into a mental-health hospital where I belonged.
    Diagnosed and given the correct medicine I have been well for the last 18 years,  Commited.  But even though my offences were committed while I was mentally ill, the offences still show up on my CRB check.  My work takes me into primary schools creating nature areas, school garden, outdoor classrooms and taking gardening clubs.  But recently 2 schools have refused to employ me because of offences on my CRB enhanced disclosure although 2 schools gave me good references. No stigma here then Gillian,
    In fact, I am so aware about my illness having managed it for 20 years, I know the warning signs and how to act if required.  Has anybody else had similar outcomes with CRB checks working at schools!  sg

  • Janiete

    And why our benefit system has to recognise the real impact of mental health issues on people’s lives. 

  • Richard

    Such ignorance is breathtaking. Your thoughts on disability and the defenceless can only be imagined.  Shame on you.

  • Michele

     I don’t think Delingpole’s been covert about his own background of depression nor that of his father.

    He did a blog a while ago about the Chelsea stockbroker who transpired to have a background of depression but also hours of drinking on the day he died by what some in US apparently call ‘suicide by Police’.  I found the blog very unnerving.

  • Christine E Brand

    Just heard you on This Week, excellent piece you’ve done! I attend meetings on Depression & Wellbeing part of New NHS clusters & L.A’s and now to changes in NHS – Wellbeing huge part of Public Health Strategy by L.A.’s and national too; ready needs pursuing, much to be achieved to gain equality and fairness in our society – thereby valuing people, which would help against much that ails depression. Unless experienced an unknown, unwanted, black hole!! 
    Still sruggling getting out of 10 years on, this gives me light at end of tunnel…….sometime!


  • Ehtch

    Ref. your appearance last night (“Lord Campbell it’ll never happen!”), on This Week, I am sure I saw a Veto this afternoon buying a bag of chips in a chip shop in Upper Cwmdonkin, being served by Elvis, and Elvis sang it a song, “Return to Sender, address unknown”.

    And excellent bagpipes – but took me half an hour to get the cat off the celing when you started playing, after you woke it up. It’s still looks a bit traumatised even now, eyeballs bulging and just standing there staring into space.

    And with the depression in the H of C, politicians definitely think it would be a sign of weakness, and a sign that with voters, and those senior to them giving promotions, would think they won’t be able to hack it if the going gets tough. But the same applies to illness with the rest of the body though. And also the macho thing would come into it as well, so self-denial might be a factor too.

  • Ehtch

    Someone’s hobby is fishing here, looking for a bite. That’s the only way to explain such comment. Anyway, all publicity and attention seeking is a good thing on the matter, one could suppose.

  • Anonymous

    Cracking this week episode.

    They had a bit on the financial crash with great contributions from Alastair, Portillo, Neil and most of all the wonderful Gillian Tett.Alastairs idea of an inquiry got a lot of support, particularly from Gillian who pointed out that (under Reagan) in the American savings and loans crisis, 2000 or so financiers got jailed.

    The bit on Europe was annoying, Alastair saw Portillo was going to make good points that he wouldn’t like, so Alastair wouldn’t let him speak. He thought he was playing with Diego again and tried to get his foot in before Portillo got running! Neil was uncharacteristically weak in this. Though Neil then made a great gag in support of Alastair about the veto going missing.

    On depression, good discussion, Alastair and Ruby win with Churchill mention, though I felt they should have mentioned Abraham Lincoln too, another bothered by the Black Dog.

    Good tv. Well… for the likes of me anyway.

  • Anonymous

    People die from depression and mental illness. By suicide. Noone has to be a sycophant to recognise this. If you cannot imagine that, just as an amazonian headhunter cannot imagine dying from cancer, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to other people. It may not affect you, but it could affect someone in your family, if you found a grandchild swinging from a rope you may not take it so lightly.

  • Anonymous

    Delingpole and his father suffered depression? Didn’t know, must google. Didn’t see the blog you mentioned, I only read him time to time but will look for it too.
    Any support for my point that some jobs are harder than others for ME or depression sufferers?

    • Michele

       There are all sorts of nuances to any types of illness and disturbance and it’s why I maintained (against a lot of disagreement here) that CRB checks are more essential for the sake of the recovering individual than for the organisation they aspire to join.

      A recovering person can be fragile and working with children (for example) is not all nursery rhymes and ring’o’roses, just as working with fellow adults doesn’t guarantee understanding. 

      AC and RW are fantasic ambassadors and  prove that mental illness can add so much creativity to a person’s thinking but can you imagine how damaging in real life the shits like the blog’s Curries would be for someone sharing workspace with them?

      It’s time to acccept that CRB checks are for the sake of the ex-patient too.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. And I think there are ways this can be done without just anyone being able to claim they have this condition (which is what people will throw at it).

    How many agrees is this we have in a row now Janiete?

  • Gilliebc

    Isn’t it time ‘you faded quietly into the background’ or whatever it was you said in relation to AC just recently.  You odious tosser.

    If you think most commenters on this site are ‘sycophants’ then why do you bother to visit this site at all?

  • Gilliebc

    The fact that your inane and pig-ignorant comment already has 3 likes is proof that people such as AC, Ruby Wax and others have an uphill task in educating the more moronic members of society such as yourself.

    If the subject of mental illness ‘bores’ you than why are you here reading about it and making silly comments – B*gger off!
    You neanderthal.

  • gillian currie

    Oi vey.
    We have a saying back home…’.As kakpraat kollekeis is is was onse almal taarentaale’. And we all are spots, intelegence notwithstanding.  

  • Richard

    Go forth to your own land and spread your light. Intollerance bigotry and racism are your hallmarks. Mengele your hero?

    • gillian currie

      That is Herr Dokter Mengele to you.
      In our family he is fondly referred as dear old Uncle Joseph.

  • Amy

    Though I have a lot of respect for Mr Campbell open discussion of his own mental health problems and applaud his campaigning to end the stigma and discrimination around mental illness, it makes my heart sink a little to read yet another article about depression. So much of the recent “end discrimination and stigma” campaigns from charities and individuals alike focus on the 1 in 4 figure and depression, anxiety, panic, addiction and “breakdown” – at best they might mental bipolar (and management with medication.) Where is the push to end stigma towards the 1 in 100 of us that experience severe mental illness? Where is the talk about psychosis, schizophrenia, delusional disorders, psychotic depression, schizo-affective disorder, severe personality disorders? In my experience people are much more open about and accepting of ‘depression’ and I tend to tell people that my problems were ‘depression related’ or I focus on the PTSD symptoms because there is still such misunderstanding, fear and prejudice if you mention a diagnosis that begins with the letters sch- or which ends with the letters P.D. It is starting to feel as if we are making the more common (and generally less severe) illness more normalised and acceptable, at the expense of excluding and ignoring severe mental illness entirely. Those of us who experience psychosis and/or personality disorder often don’t fit into the slightly more fluffy and non-scary framework of “struggling a bit and having emotional distress and find the right medication and it can be managed and you have a fairly normal life’. When I am in a bad phase of my illness I don’t have to ‘disclose’ it because anyone who meets me realises quite quickly that there is ‘something wrong’… and the majority of people’s reactions are still overwhelmingly negative and prejudiced. (It isn’t that I am aggressive or inappropriate, simply “weird” or “not making much sense” and the lack of understanding, fears and stigma around that sort of thing really haven’t yet begun to be tackled.)
    Mr Campbell! Come on! It would be brilliant if sometimes you could mention psychotic illness and the stigma (and sometimes outright attack, abuse or bullying) we encounter with it. Don’t be a part of perpetuating that stigma by sticking solely to the safer topics of depression and anxiety, please! It doesn’t break down walls if people stay away from the ‘scary stuff’ and it feels as if most of this stigma campaigns back away from dealing with the reality of severe mental illness and instead put emphasis on conditions that the general public are already more likely to understand and feel less nervous about: depression=sympathy, psychosis=scary.

    • Michele

       I suppose we pick up sloppy use from the media, entertainment etc.  For instance I’ve just referred elsewhere to someone taking the oppo of a dig at AC on the radio programme this morning, behaving like a stalker and I used the word psycho. 

      I should have restricted my comment to suggesting the stalker got therapy.

  • Chris lancashire

    You miss the point entirely – I believe that in this country the vast majority of people are decent and prejudice against mental illness, today, is negligible. Yes, there is a moronic minority who attach stigma to mental illness; the same group has similar problems about gays, blacks, immigrants and so on. But I dispute Mr Cambell’s suggestion that there is widespread stigma and taboo about mental illness. I don’t think we live in that sort of country.

  • Anonymous

    Well I don’t know what part of the country you live in but in my part “There is f all wrong with them” is a common refrain, and if I had depression I would not tell an employer nor would I expect understanding if I did. Plenty of people lose their jobs because of it you know.

  • Ehtch

    Herr Freud he certainly wasn’t – tell me about your childhood?

  • Michele

    If your knowledge is limited to ‘I don’t think we live in that sort of country’ shouldn’t you have stopped writing after the first three words?

    If someone has experience of discrimination about their MH and fears recurrence(s) or it all happening to others, what can be wrong in their trying to explain it?  Whether they are in a high-powered career (as my friend was) or not yet fulfilled in any way at all they need to feel that isolating themselves (as my friend is still doing after a few years) is not the best idea.

    There has been case after case in just the last few months of people writing about not having felt able to be open about their sadness and many people fear using medication to control it.

  • Ehtch

    Knew I shouldn’t have switched on Radio Four this morning – cat had a PTSD bagpiped flashback, and he scarpped out of the cat flap as if his arse was on fire, and I haven’t seen him since, gone right out into the falling snow.

    But that was an excellent show Alastair – and I have always banged on about asian decendent Ugandans having the right coming to live here, because they were british citizens with british passports and had every right, what with what this country got of the Empire monatarily over the last couple of centuries. But with some, I might as well be talking to a white monkey, if you get what I mean.

    Again, excellent show, and you can never say I am a Beeb 4 radio fan at all, maybe I am predjudice since it sounded like the home counties personal radio channel with their waffle nonsense programs, when I was younger.

    • Michele

       The 6.30pm comedy slots are usually fabulous Aitch, especially on Fridays; Mitch Benn used to be on almost every Friday.  Used to be …   🙁

      Humphrey Lyttleton’s double entendres are a big loss but the show goes on.

      Shame about the stalker that tweeted (?) or emailed in this morning, some of these pseudo pacifists sometimes come across a little psycho.

  • Ehtch

    …and no, also, furthermore, my ‘macho and self-denying’ comment has got nothing to do with yesterday’s media circus, that we were warned about on Thursday, like a flag put up on some coastal hillside by the media, honest. But maybe you will have to ask my sub-conscious though. Been telling my sub-conscious it will end up in court one day, but did it listen?

    Again, messing with stuff and supasoding, or however you spell that word. god, my spelling is crap, damn you sub-conscious making fun of me in not making me able to remember to spell. But again, I am only joking around again, playing things on the fine edge.

  • Ehtch

    Shug finally came home, but his bulging eyeballs are worrying. Still can’t sit down for two minutes. He is disturbed about something….

    Maybe I should play that LP I have got, Scottish Piped Bands, but maybe not, I’ll have to buy some new wallpaper if I do.

  • Hello AC

    Tried to give you a nudge
    on twitter, but I understand why no reply. No worries. I today, for the first
    time experienced the Spanish MH system for a depressive relapse episode due to
    PTSD from my UK military service. Although COMBAT STRESS are the referral point
    of entry for ex servicemen…it is limited and still does a bloody good job the best it

    In Spain PTSD seems to be
    embedded and embraced in the collective social consciousness. I guess this is
    due to a post Franco epidemic, as around where I live there are shocking and unbelievable
    stories to be heard. They are light years ahead in this field. They seem to focus on others coming together as one?

    Yet I believe UK had those skills post world war
    two, when there was a strong community, and people understood, respected what
    others were suffering and had suffered collectively. All I know is I have lost
    my friends who, in fact have really died for me and you. I cant seem to embrace the loss. 

    I fear that although
    British Society is sort of clear in supporting our fighting and wounded troops, depression
    and trauma symptoms are clearly the same for everyone in all walks of life and society regardless, and therefore it should be collective resposibility.

     It needs to become intergraded as whole consciousness
    with everyone behind a knowing MH system that is integrated within all communities.