Depression is an illness, not a weakness

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 1 May 2012 in Diary
Speaking up about depression is difficult, especially for those in the public eye. So let's spare a thought for those who have managed it, says Jayne Hardy

I have a new found admiration for Alastair Campbell. Before you pull a ‘really?!’ face let me explain.

Speaking out about a debilitating illness such as depression takes courage. It’s a hugely personal illness in that it affects different people in different ways. The stigma attached to mental illness means you’re never quite sure how people will react. There’s still a lack of understanding and prejudice.
It took me years to speak out about my own battle with depression. I felt ashamed of the illness as I’d had such an amazing childhood – what did I have to be depressed about?! I also felt frightened, frightened that people would treat me differently and frightened that from hereonin, I’d always be defined as ‘someone with depression’. The fear I felt was tangible.

It is fair to say that mostly my fears were unfounded. Being open about it all meant that I had a new found freedom. I could be honest. All those little excuses I’d made in the past to try to explain away my behaviour, were now a thing of the past.

Yes, there were some who questioned it. ‘How do YOU have depression? You’re so bubbly and outgoing.’ Along with ‘I don’t believe you have depression, you achieve so much.’

I may have seemed bubbly and outgoing on the days I actually got dressed and made it out of the house. But it was an act and it was exhausting. Yes, I may be an ‘achiever’ but I have to work doubly hard to be that. I have to battle the voices of self-doubt and make the most of the days when I’m firing on all cylinders. Just because someone has depression, doesn’t stop them from achieving. Look at Winston Churchill – he led our country to win the Second World War. Dame Kelly Holmes – trained her socks off and has two Olympic gold medals. You get the gist.

So, back to my admiration of Alastair Campbell.....he’s clearly a man’s man. His problems with drink have been widely reported and he is very much in the public eye. Consider my fear of speaking out and then consider the sheer courage it must have taken for him to be honest about his depression. Not only has he spoken out, he’s worked damn hard to increase awareness and donated a great deal of time to the cause. I respect him for taking the illness and turning it on its head, using it to reach out and help others.

With one in six people thought to be affected by depression and 650 members of parliament, a quick calculation tells me that 108 members of parliament may suffer with the illness. Who are they? Should they speak out? Is it any of our business?

It isn’t really any of our business but mental health is very much on our government’s agenda. No Health Without Mental Health and the Time to Change campaign work to increase awareness and to tackle the stigma. Shouldn’t our politicians then lead the way, set an example to the rest of us? Are they in fact, victims of the very stigma that they are trying to crush?

Jayne Hardy is the co-founder of the Blurt Foundation and tweets as @BlurtAlerts. Read more contributions to TP's mental health week here

Tags: Alastair Campbell, Depression, TP mental health week

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