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It’s Mind week – Get it off your Chest with me and Stephen Fry

Posted on 11 May 2009 | 6:05am

I have no idea how days and weeks come to be such and such
Day and such and such Week, but I do know that today sees the start of Mind
week. I know because I am on my way to the BBC to talk it up on Radio 5 (0745) and
Breakfast TV (0810) and in particular to help launch the charity’s campaign focussed
on men and mental health.

From there to the launch proper with Stephen Fry, 
Melvyn Bragg, actor Joe McGann and DJ Matt Wilkinson.  I know from my work
with Leukaemia Research that the recession is having a financial impact on
charities. And I know from my work with them and with Rethink that charities
sometimes get irritated that they can only get coverage for their cause if a
few well-known faces are attached. And even then, it is hard if the media are
obsessed with something else at the time, currently MPs’ expenses.

Anyway we
will give it a go and try to get over some of the basic messages behind Mind’s
‘Get it off your Chest’ campaign. At the launch we will be erecting a temporary
wall in central London where members of the public will be encouraged to write
something about their stresses, worries and fears.

Here is a horrible fact for
you. Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 15-35. Here are another two
facts. Men are just as likely to suffer depression as women. But half as likely
to be diagnosed. It is the old ‘suffer in silence’ ‘stiff upper lip’ ‘big boys
don’t cry’ approach. Men are far more likely than women to see mental distress
as a sign of weakness, and so are less likely to want to talk about it.

are in no doubt it is an attitude linked directly to that suicide statistic.
Three quarters of suicides in Britain are by men. The recession makes things
worse. Two-thirds of young men who take their own lives are unemployed. One in
seven men develop depression within six months of losing a job. Only 23 per
cent of men say they would see their GP if they felt low for over a fortnight.
A third say they would be embarrassed to ask for help. 

Health Secretary
Alan Johnson has a real commitment in the area of mental health (not to mention
a clean bill of health on expenses) and the government record is a good one.
Most recently he has been encouraging PCTs to use 80 million pounds on mental
health and the recession this year. It is likely to be needed.

Mind are calling
on the government to bring in a strategy on men’s mental health, to match the
existing women’s mental health strategy. That too is needed. As I have said
here before, one in four of us will suffer a mental health problem at some time
in our lives. I know from experience how important professional help can be.
Equally I know how hard it is to admit you need it.

I hope Mind week encourages
more people who need help to ask for it, and a continuing breakdown in the
stigma and shame surrounding mental illness. # More details of Mind week,
including a new survey on some of these issues at Media inquiries to or 07850788514.

And as it’s Mind week, I’ve put up part one of the documentary I made with the BBC, Cracking Up. The other three parts will be coming over the coming days.

  • Alina Palimaru

    Keep up the superb work, Alastair! I hope you win the MIND Award this week! And many thanks for posting Cracking Up! I have been wanting to see it since it aired last fall.

  • Rebecca King

    It is worrying that men suffer in silence in this way. I wonder if there is a link between this an how so many men with untreated mental health problems end up in the prison system. Hope all goes well today.

  • gary Enefer

    Dear AC
    Thank you for doing do so much for MIND.It would be nice if you can look into the legal care,or lack of it.I sued my ex employer for causing a me a
    stress breakdown. The employer said I would never win,then the Union said ‘they didn’t like it’ as ”my problem was stress related”. I then saw a QC who then said ”there’s no point because you can’t prove stress like you can an Industrial accident”. I realise it is more difficult but the so-called reprsentatives didn’t even want to try.

    I felt very scared an alone and MIND helped by being there. I won my case through being streetwise I guess but not everyone is and I fear for others .

    By the way I am following Katereardon on Twitter who runs Toptips website/friend of Marthalanefox who I am also following. Kate needs about £65 for race for life to make her target of £100. I have sponsored a tenner – can my fellow bloogers help and just mention where you saw this to raise the profile,even more,of this superb blog and twitter?You can sponsor on kate’s twitter page

    Thanks AC,Thank you bloogers


  • Don Diego

    Mr Campbell,

    I have just listened to your interview with Nicky Campbell on Radio 5Live this morning.

    Not that it will matter to you in the slightest, but up until now I have always had an extremely low opinion of you and your role in the Blair government. Allowing seemingly unlimited mass immigration and the creation & fostering of the housing bubble has doomed several generations to modern-day serfdom.

    As a direct result of these short-sighted policies, millions will never be able to own their own home, raise families and become fully engaged citizen stakeholders in the UK. The exodus of capable, hard-working Brits to pastures new will change forever the face of this country, and you bear a certain amount of responsibility for this.

    However, this is not the reason I have decided to send you an e-mail. As someone who has suffered from anxiety and depression for the past 30 years, and who is currently undergoing counselling at my local MIND centre, I would like to sincerely commend you for your courage this morning. I was completely unaware of your own struggles with depression and on behalf of all of us who ride the roller coaster, I would like to thank you for coming forward in such a public manner.

    I for one do not feel quite so alone this morning.

  • Alan Quinn

    Sobering reading on male sucides there AC. Good luck with the campaign.
    I sometimes raise money for a Down’s Syndrome charity and I know that recently they’ve nearly folded due to lack of funds.

  • Alan Quinn

    btw Ally, I have sent you letters in the past, via Burnley last year for an autographed book for our yearly charity reunion event at work. Any chance this year? I’ll even do you a swap, your book for one of my bird boxes (I make a dozen every year and give them away),

  • Stuart Le Gassick


    A great start to the weak!1 Your article and what you do for the Miond charity is sincere and well thought out!!
    I remeber you coming to an event in Somerset at the Slab House Pub to launch your book! You were surrounded by growling, aggressive Tory’s who were there to show you their displeasure but after your talk about Mental Health they were completely transfixed. The number of letters I received, illustrating the respect you won that day, was quite astonishing, and your statement about a broken leg is easy to diagnose and fix but mental illness is not, was taken on board by all.

    I hope it goes well this week and with your energy I am sure it will!!

  • NIck O\’Hara Smith

    Dear Alistair,

    Your work on highlighting the “male denial” Syndrome is a welcome intervention. It’s something I have been working on for many years now. I began with Testicular Cancer some twenty one years ago. Having lost both at once, you can imagine, I too, was pretty depressed and “lost my way”. That “loss of way” was exacerbated by the fact my doctors failed to initiate Testosterone therapy for me for about six weeks. This is where our paths begin to intertwine sir.

    Over the course of the past twenty years I’ve been able to gather the evidence to support my assertion that hormones really matter in men. Indeed, the lack of Testosterone is seen to cause, wait for it, Depression, lethargy, Osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, Heart Disease, The Metabolic Syndrome, possibly Type 2 Diabetes and other ailments.

    My question to you is have you had your Testosterone levels checked? I think you should, if you haven’t already. Unpleasant thought it may be to contemplate a weakness in “that” area, being in denial about it, is a sure way to an early death, according to research.

    There are new European guidelines about Testosterone Deficiency, which fundamentally changes the approach Doctors need to take towards the condition. These guidelines follow six years after similar US guidelines.
    The question must be, why, in the UK, are we not taking note and doing something about it?

    You can read more and obtain the guidelines referred to on my “Testosterone Deficiency Centre” website, at

    You are doing great work, but, please do not ignore this important component of the depression story.


    Nick O’Hara Smith
    Author: The Testosterone Deficiency Centre (
    Associate Editor: The Testicular Cancer Resource Center (
    Livestrong Community Leader: The Lance Armstrong Foundation (
    Fundraiser: Everyman Cancer Research

  • Marion

    Missed your “bigging up” Mind Week on radio… shame. Worthy cause – well done. I hope one day men can talk about depression and its treatment as openly as they now speak of testicular cancer. Lance Armstrong changed that and your courage is clearly making a difference to the stigma attached to mental health.

    Looking forward to seeing Cracking Up later…

  • Jacqui Rafferty

    It is vital that we continue to raise awareness of mental illness in order to de-stigmatise it. And it is essential that we get men talking.
    Wouldn’t it be useful if Health and Wellbeing (which of course includes mental health) were treated as a basic skill, being taught in schools and being funded to be delivered to adults? Let people know that we all have mental health and we need to look after it – not having a mental illness doesn’t mean that you are mentally healthy.
    Furthermore, the government could make Mental Health First Aiders a requirement for all workplaces in the same way that physical First Aid is a legal requirement.

  • Em

    I just checked and could find a listen again feature for “5 Live Breakfast” if that’s what you were on. Shucks.

    Could it be that media editors project their own qualms about depression in men thus contributing to the lack of coverage the issue might get?

    I would rather die than write about my fears and worries on a public wall, but I admire your courage and openness over this whole issue.

    I know the award is announced in a few days. Good luck.

  • Em Hawkins

    Dear Alastair
    I heard your interview on R5L this morning and was reassured that I am not alone. I am currently struggling with a severe depressive episode and wondering whether/how I can return to work after 3 months off sick. My illness has been exacerbated by work-related stress.
    I wonder whether part of the reluctance of many men to acknowledge their mental health issues is directly related to their earning power – I’m in the relatively unusual situation of earning considerably more than my husband and as a direct result neglected my mental health situation for a long time as I was terrified of the impact it might have on my work and family situation, until things became unbearable.
    I wish you and MIND every success with the campaign.

  • Helen McNallen

    Good afternoon. Your amazing ongoing efforts to raise awareness and understanding of depression and reduce the stigma and encourage people to seek help when they need it can only help reduce these terrible statistics. I felt bad enough as a woman in ‘a man’s world’ on the trading floor in the city having a breakdown and know several male friends who are suffering from depression who won’t go to their doctor for fear of appearing weak for seeking help for a mental illness, fear over losing their jobs or fear of not being able to get another job because of a CV blotted with depression. I missed the beginning of your interview on Radio 5 Live and your Breakfast TV interview. I have called the programmes and they have given me permission to put them on my website, but they cannot be sure that the interviews will be featured on the BBC website. Do you know if there is anywhere or any other way that I can get hold of copies for my depression website to help others who missed them? Best regards,Helen

  • Dave Edmundson

    With your passionate support of Burnley FC and the combined effect of 72 Football League community schemes we have the potential to substantially deliver a power ful message to men in particular by engaging this hard to reach audience through football. Health is one of the core themes that Football League clubs community schemes are required to embrace and a number of clubs have focused on mental health issues. In addition, Premier League clubs have also concentrated on health and especially men’s health.With your influence and a lobby of the Department of Health, the positive impact of football’s reach and community engagement will help a considerable number of people

  • A G

    Dear Alastair I just wanted thank you for bringing this subject to bear. You have given depression the degree of respect that has been warranted for decades. It’s an affliction that nobody wants but many have to suffer and manage. I have everything in my life that I desire, a near perfect wife, beautiful children, a nice house near the coast, but I still suffer from this controlling and sometimes debilitating illness. I can control it, but so often it hits me with out warning, quite frankly I’m worn down by it. Three years ago an incident at work (a promise of promotion) was withdrawn due to disagreement with a work colleague in a meeting. Now despite the fact I was proven correct, the promotion was withdrawn due (as management saw it) to unprofessional conduct. I was shattered and took a huge nose dive. As a conscientious, caring, hard working person, wanting only to do the right thing all the time, I just could not see how I had ended up where I was. I felt shipwrecked, stranded on an island with no one to talk to, or understand what I was feeling. Self-esteem was at an all time low and no matter what I did I felt utterly lonely. Over the next month I was asked to try and return to work twice, and on both occasions I broke down. It wasn’t until three months later I managed it. That is when the battle started though. The stigma attached to depression is sometimes more debilitating than the illness itself. You are made to feel like a leper, a social inadequate and you can see how easy it would be to turn to suicide to escape. I can not tell you how overwhelmed I was when you stepped forward. Whilst I know I had the strength to move forward, you have empowered everyone. It’s just a shame though that there is still such a long way to go. Business / people as a whole, have so much more to understand. The afflicted don’t want to suffer but require the support to pick them selves up. Can government help do you think? I offer my support and would be happy to help you in any way you saw fit. Thanks again.

  • Christopher Young

    I would like to add to the praise you have received so far about your comments on depression and related mental health issues. Having caught your appearance on the BBC Breakfast News this morning, I was startled (a good thing!) by your eloquence and understanding of an issue that I have struggled with for some years now. I wholeheartedly agreed with your description of waht it is like to suffer from depression, the arbitrary feelings it can arise and the sheer difficulty on feels when trying to ecplain what depression “feels like”. Once again I would like to thank you for having the bravery to openly discuss this topic in the public domain and I would also encourage others to please take heed of Mr Campbell’s words; there is help if you know ehere to look.
    Thank you and please keep up the good work!

  • FF

    from FF


    ref your discussion on BBC Breakfast News, I totally understand how this hits. I was hit for a while for a totally different reason than for yourself, I had an op that went wrong and left me in pain for years. The problem has now been rectified but I found myself in some dark places and can totally empathise with anyone who goes there.

    Although I am totally inqualified in this field, if there are any specific organisations that could use a volunteer, pleae advise.


  • Mil

    The best thing about what you’re doing with Mind is that it tells the world out there that people who have suffered from mental ill health have no automatic sell-by dates – with intelligent and professional guidance and help (not *always* easy to come by unfortunately), they can return to being productive, useful and beloved members of society again.

    Widening the parameters of the debate a little, I do so wish we could banish the term “disabled people” from our vocabulary. People with a chronic illness are “people with support needs” – that is to say, people first, needs second. The term “disabled people” does nothing to positively mould an often unknowing public’s perception of what it is to have to engage with the challenges of living under the shadow of a permanent or semi-permanent illness or condition.

    That’s why if I were Prime Minister for one day, the first thing I’d do is rewrite the language of disability legislation.

    Thanks for continuing to speak out anyhow.

  • gary Enefer

    Thanks to all on this particular blog. I do struggle with depression and anxiety and it feels like an invader. I will definitely check my testosterone
    levels nick and checkout your website.

    Did anyone manage to contact and sponsor Katereadon( top tips website or Twitter)please?

  • AG

    Thanks for listening!

  • Catriona Smith

    Thanks AC for these statistics and also for the fact that you will be putting up the other three parts of your documentary. All the best to you.

  • Rob

    Tough on the perception of….

    Hello Alastair, love the show.

    Stigma aside, you mention diagnosis. Crucial. I thought I would bandy around some facts.

    According to their 2007/08 guide to local services, my Primary Care Trust spent £54,400,000 on mental healthcare with their chosen service provider, a “mental health style mega-trust”. This trust, according to their last annual report serves a population of 1,100,000 but employ the equivalent of 51 full-time psychiatrists: Google “nhs psychiatrists” with the quotation marks or nhs_psychiatrists separated with the underscore. Those psychiatrists would leave Harlaston Village Hall half-empty.

    I think the National Health Service needs more psychiatrists on the beat.

    And relax.