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Thanks to Ernst and Young for supporting Time to Change

Posted on 29 March 2012 | 6:03am

Here is a blog that will be appearing shortly on the Time to Change website, which I have written about the latest big company to get on board the campaign to end the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness.

I recently attended the offices of one of the world’s biggest accountancy firms, Ernst & Young, as they joined the many organisations signing up to the Time to Change pledge. This commitment helps us to edge a little further towards the tipping point where mental illness is no longer considered a taboo.

Six thousand people work in the building where I was speaking. Some of them will already have mental health conditions. In such a stressful world, others may develop them. It was heartening to see such a big company taking these issues, and the wellbeing of staff, so seriously. I hope other similarly sized firms in the financial centre of London will follow suit.

One in four of us will experience a mental illness in some shape or form and in a perfect world this should not affect our employability. However, sadly, mental health stigma still exists in workplaces so the support from Ernst & Young is valuable. As the Time to Change ‘World Without’ report asks, what would our world be like without historical leaders such as Churchill, Lincoln, Darwin, Marie Curie and Florence Nightingale – all had what today would be viewed as mental health problems.

My personal experience with mental illness is no secret. I still have bouts of depression but I have help and support to come through these difficult episodes. In 1986 I had a major psychotic breakdown where I experienced voices, paranoia and I was eventually arrested and admitted to hospital for my own safety. As I said to the Ernst and Young meeting, it was the worst experience of my life at the time, but looking back it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I sorted out my priorities and am now better equipped with a good yardstick to deal with pressure and stressful situations.

When I moved over from journalism to politics I had no choice but to be open about my illness, because one or two papers wrote about it, and I never regretted it. For now I have accepted that this is a part of me and something that I can manage. One great form of therapy was writing my novel about mental illness, All in the Mind, and more recently an ebook on the political and personal pursuit of happiness, ‘The Happy Depressive’. People are kind enough to say it helps them when people with a public profile talk about these things. In truth it helps me too.

I have been lucky in the workplace and to be fair to the media, on this part of my life they have been pretty good. But others really are not so lucky. They fear that if they admit a problem past or present it will be held against them, and job opportunities will vanish.

Mental health really is the last taboo. We look back at times when black people couldn’t vote, when women couldn’t wear trousers in the workplace, when gay people couldn’t be honest about their sexuality – this all seems totally unacceptable now. It took time and it took the courage of campaigners to break down those taboos. Now we all of us have to work at breaking down the taboo of mental illness. We all have physical health. Some days it is good. Some days it is less good. It is the same with mental health and we would all be better off if we admitted that.

I hope that I can look back during my life time and people of the next generation will ask “Why were people so scared of being open about our mental illnesses?”; “Did employers really say they would not recruit someone who admitted they took medication for depression?”; “Did we really used to think that people who have schizophrenia were all violent?”; Did people with lived experience of mental health problems really say that the stigma and taboo was sometimes worse than the symptoms of their illness?”. And last but not least “Did we really used to write off some of the brightest and best in our country because they carried a label marked mental illness?”

So many thanks to Ernst and Young for signing up to Time to Change. And come on other firms and organisations – big or small – join Time to Change and pledge to end mental health discrimination. This is a battle we can win. But it takes people to see that it matters, and want to make it happen.

  • Liz

    Well done, Ernst & Young, that’s brilliant leadership and a great example to set. I really and honestly applaud them.

    And I hope you’re right and we see these attitudes as archaic in less than a generation’s time. It’s so prevalent still at the moment. Other big companies must now stand up to be counted – but E&Y doing this will have greatly helped this process. 

  • Anonymous

    Good work Alastair, and Ernst and Young.

    I feel things are about to get worse not better in the short term for people with serious mental illness due to changes in NHS and benefits. Anyone agree?

    I know of family friends who have recently been brutally grilled about DLA even though one of them is riddled with arthritis. Another one has had a harrowing year going through treatment for 3 types of cancer, but has now been pronounced fit for work and had benefit slashed

    If its like this for people with “visible” illnesses, what is it going to be like for people with severe depression when “workfare” really starts kicking in. There are people I care about with these conditions and I really feel for them.

    Also noticed in paper that Frankie Sandford of “The Saturdays” suffers from bad depression. Another example of how it can affect everyone, she seems to have it all, beauty, talent, money yet still the black dog can strike.

  • Olli Issakainen

    By strange coincidence I have just being studying big accounting and consulting companies.
    Ernst & Young is one of the Big Four in accounting with Deloitte, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
    EY has 152,000 employees and revenue of $22.9bn. 2002 EY merged with many of the ex-Arthur Andersen practices.
    EY has been sponsoring art exhibitions.

    Ps. According to OECD Britain is back in recession. Labour has 10-point poll lead. David Cameron in the Telegraph promises to tear down the big state brick by brick… 

  • Ehtch

    It will be interesting to hear what will happen to that pilot in the US, who had what can only described as a serious personal crisis as captain of that aircraft flight. It might reflect how society there treats such events. Especially when you think he wasn’t exactly on a street when things got to him, but had well over hundred lives in his hands. Perhaps the taboo nature of the subject prevented it being picked up before hand by those around him that he was struggling.

  • Dave Simons

    David Cameron should read Karl Marx. Marx wanted to see ‘the withering away of the state’, and you can’t get more ‘small state’ than that. But I don’t think Cameron is serious about this, as about other matters. When it comes to depriving trade unions of their right to defend the price of labour in a free market I think he has as much need for the big state as his role model, Margaret Thatcher. She spent a ton of taxpayers’ money harrying picket lines during the Miners’ Strike of 1984/5, and she was glad to have a ‘big state’ to do it. Cameron would do the same. Cameron is just Margaret Thatcher with a bit of show biz thrown in.

  • Ehtch

    Furthermore, good tweet by youself on Georgie, Alastair – followed it and posted a comment, I am the one who was asking Georgie for a quote on some carpet, curtains and wallpaper for my two up and two down mansion. But I forgot to mention to him not to do the job if it pushes him over the £150,000 tax bracket.
    He’s a rich git, inherited, apart from being a plonker of a Chancellor. He won’t be there a year from now, and Brown will be laughing over his haggis next Burn’s Night, over his whisky increasing industry dram.

  • Anonymous

    Your reputation must be improving Alastair. Last year, when you were discussed in the telegraph, I wrote that I liked you and received about 10 comments of abuse.  Today I wrote something similar and I got 2 likes and one comment about Burnley. Now that’s progress!

  • Ehtch


    Woof, that is, well, fuck me sides, a right result, and there’s me thinking Labour would storm it. Shows what I know what is going on in Bradford these days. Result;

    George Galloway (Respect) 18,341 (55.89%, +52.83%)

    Imran Hussain (Lab) 8,201 (24.99%, -20.36%)

    Jackie Whiteley (C) 2,746 (8.37%, -22.78%)

    Jeanette Sunderland (LD) 1,505 (4.59%, -7.08%)

    Sonja McNally (UKIP) 1,085 (3.31%, +1.31%)

    Dawud Islam (Green) 481 (1.47%, -0.85%)

    Neil Craig (D Nats) 344 (1.05%)

    Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 111 (0.34%)

    Quite different, almost nuts. Barking in fact. Sort this out beeb, will you – tongue-tied they will be, gargling – spit it out will you Shepherds Bush. Brilliant!

    Song for George, the Hero, lap for milk up puddy,

  • Ehtch

    Alastair, list right at the start right, he thanks, on the list, Burnley F.C. first – mega kosher respect points there must be there Alastair.

    Wotsisname beeb radio was not a puppet , well not full stringed, John Peel,

  • Ehtch

    Anyway, sense will prevail, even if it leaves you, HANG ON!, another Hercules has crossed over me now in Cross Hands, on the way to Royal Sigs 14 Brawdy, honest to goodness, 0907 brit summer time, Carmel transmission mast corner, check it. Ed, and Gerry Andersen,

    BUT BUT BUT, taleban, any minute of the day they come passed, oh fuck, have I, wibble, said something out of turn, oh christ, there is a knock on the door…………..
    oh, it is only my auntie, delivering what is left over from thurs night cawl for us to pig swill. Says she has a fine bit off fish in for today, happy for her, and the multitude she feeds.

    Anyway, Ed Bishop,

  • reaguns

    Just wanted to say I clicked on your website and I liked it.

  • reaguns

    Just wanted to say I clicked on your website and I liked it.

  • Ehtch

    Part one of many, Confetti OK,

    Gerry, Ed, Suzanne, and Alec, and others.

  • Ehtch

    indigestshannn and bowel retenshunnnah

    Get The Fall and Mark E here, when in Oslo, as you do. Mark E semi, as in biography is a great read Alastair, on late seventies to 2000’s hysterical millennia, a must for the book shelf. “A must for the bookshelf”? Sounds like a Fall song that is. Anyway, Oslo, 2000sixah

    Mark E semi, available here, to try and make you happy,

    Buy it, you fackhahs!

  • Ehtch

    Have been thinking of breeding Seval/Savannah multi-generational cats, even crossbred to scottish wildcats, up in their sticks, but the wotsit I am worried about. Serval,followed by a scottish wildcat from their pined woods, up there,
    I luv cats, I just want to, blubber, hug them, i lurve cats…

  • Ehtch

    Yes, I wore a jimmy on my head, after RAF was in TA London Reg, squadron down in Coulsdon, won the squad best recruit, best on intake in Catterick, and to make it ever marvellously for me, got off with this marvellous girl from Leerk, last night in Caterrick in the gym room was interesting, ahem! tongues everywhere, more tea vicar?

    Song for Helen from Leek, your stiil in my heart, maybe, but maybe elsewhere more,

  • Ehtch

    OOPS, jimmy on my head as worn by the Royal Sigs as head badge, was in the Princess Louise Squadron in Coulsdon, best Sigs Squadron then in Greater London..

  • Ehtch

    There is always the North European Lynx, but that might be a bigger project…

  • Ehtch

    Ocelots? i could go on all day here….
    A heck of a character of a cat. Any cat that doesn’t look at me as dinner is OK with me. Anyone messing with them those big lot is chancing it, seriously.

  • Gilliebc

    Beautiful creatures imo Ehtch.  And they come in so many sizes! 

  • Liz

    Thank you – much appreciated!

  • Anonymous

    Come on Dave you’re better than this! Margaret Thatcher and Cameron have precious little in common, regardless of which side of the fence one is on! Its like saying Michael Foot, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are all the same, they are not.

    Cameron is very definitely of the one-nation conservative “wet” side of the party. If you look at the arguments against Thatcher back then (from within the party) they are exactly the sort of arguments that Cameron is onside with.

    Thats not to say one is better or worse than the other (thats for another topic) but on policy they are very different. Thatcher would have been for higher interest rates for one example. Dave loves u-turns whereas thatcher was “not for turning”. Whether you think it is good to change course is another thing, but Dave does it more.

    Dave is well left of Thatcher.

  • Kevin Cochrane

    Alistair, you may be interested in this piece on how depression affected the career of tope rugby union player Duncan Bell. Just more evidence of the need for people to be open about depression and to seek help when it hits them.

  • good information. Thanks for the fascinating chat. I really like the points talked about.