Former political aide and author, Alastair Campbell recalls the conversation he had with former prime minister Tony Blair about his experiences of depression and why talking is important for social change.
Video transcript: Alastair Campbell talks about depression
It’s time to talk, it’s time to change.
My name’s Alastair Campbell. I had a breakdown in the mid 80s and as a result of that I realised that I get depression from time to time. What I would say is that in general and in theory I’m very very good at being open. In practice, at times, if I am feeling just a bit kind of down and fed up with life I’m probably not but I’m conscious of the need to be. And therefore sometimes that will trigger me at the right moment to hopefully say and do the right thing.
When Tony Blair asked me to work for him in 1994 just after John Smith died and he became the Leader of the Labour Party and he asked me to work for him. And I kind of knew he would but I wasn’t sure and one of the reasons I wasn’t sure was because I just thought “Well I’ve cracked up before. The pressure I’m going to come under is going to be way more intense than anything I’ve had before as a journalist so who knows?”
So I said I was going to take a month to think about it. It wasn’t the only reason I want to think about it, it was one of them. And he came out to France where we were on holiday to try and sort of talk me into it. And I was moving, I was definitely moving in that direction but I thought I kind of owed it to him to tell him what had happened in relation to my breakdown and what happened. So we were on a very, quite a long drive, we had to take his mother-in-law to Marseille Airport. So we took her up to the airport, dropped her off and then I told him on the drive back.
And so I’m driving and I’m talking away about all the stuff that happened in my head and the drink and the psychosis and the hospitalisation and getting arrested and all this sort of stuff. And I can see him kind of going “This is all a bit weird.” And he knew I’d had the breakdown because I’d known him for a long long time but I don’t think he ever knew quite, just what it had involved. And anyway so we’d yatter away like this and then eventually he said “Well look I’m not bothered if you’re not bothered.” And I said “Yes but what if I’m bothered.” He said “Well I’m still not bothered.”
And I thought that was a quite good signal. Because in a sense he was saying “Look I know all that’s happened but as far as I’m concerned I’ve made a bigger, deeper, broader judgement about you that I think you could do the job or want you to do the job. And I don’t think it’ll be a problem. And to be honest it never really was a problem after that.
I think it’s a very very difficult area this because all I can say is it’s always benefitted me to be open. I can’t in all honesty say to everybody in all of their different circumstances “It will benefit you to be open.” Because the truth is I’m afraid because of the stigma, because of the taboo, because of the discrimination that does sometimes exist, it could be worse for some people. And I think if all of us could somehow make the leap together to be more open then all of us the ill and the non ill would be better off.
News stories about Alastair Campbell and mental health
Alastair Campbell is Mind Champion of the Year – Accepting the award, Alastair said: “Change is happening, and I really feel we are close to the tipping point in terms of people’s greater understanding and society’s greater openness about mental illness. I am pleased and proud that people think I have played a part in that.”
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The number of people with mental health issues being readmitted to hospital in Tayside within a month of their discharge is increasing.
More than 16% of Tayside adults discharged from hospital, having been admitted on mental health grounds, were back within a month in 2016/17, according to new figures.
The readmission rate has increased from 11.9% in 2012/13.
NHS Tayside is above the Scottish average for mental health hospital readmissions in the most recent statistics compiled by ISD Scotland.
At 16.3%, it was behind only NHS boards in Dumfries & Galloway and Lothian.
The majority of patients readmitted after an initial stay in hospital were affected by mood disorders (36.9%), delusional type disorders (19.2%) and adult personality and behavioural disorders (15.8%).
North East Scottish Conservative MSP Bill Bowman said the increase in readmissions for depression is “very troubling”.
The ISD figures also recorded NHS Tayside region had the fourth highest suicide rate in Scotland, behind Forth Valley, Highlands and Orkney – 14.4 per 100,000 between 2012 and 2016.
Mr Bowman said: “At some point, one in four people will experience a mental health condition.
“NHS Tayside staff are doing their best to deal with the growing number of people who come to them with symptoms of depression and low mood.
“Because Tayside has such a high suicide rate, NHS Tayside needs resources to dig into why people come back to hospital so quickly.
“If it’s because of underfunding in areas run by councils and community healthcare partnerships, the SNP government needs to assess the potential damage it is doing by making cuts to local authority budgets.”
A spokesperson for NHS Tayside said: “Mental illnesses can be unpredictable and there are many reasons why a patient may require to be readmitted following discharge from hospital.
“Patients can sometimes experience a new episode of illness for which admission to hospital is the most appropriate course of treatment.
“Patients are discharged following clinical assessment from a consultant psychiatrist and are followed up locally within the community.
“There is no direct relationship between the length of time a patient is in hospital and the need to be readmitted.”
She added: “Anyone can become suicidal; the reasons can be different and very complex and it is not always due to mental illness. Each suicide is a tragedy and the impact on those left behind lasts a lifetime.
“Every suicide in Tayside is comprehensively reviewed by the Tayside multi-agency Suicide Review Group to look at the circumstances surrounding each individual case.
“f people are feeling suicidal, the best thing to do is talk and tell someone how they are feeling. Speak to someone you can trust or call a helpline. If you’re worried that someone else is suicidal, ask them – asking someone directly about their feelings can help them.”
Further help and information can be found by downloading the “Suicide? Help!” app, visiting www.suicidehelp.co.uk or calling NHS 24 on 111, Samaritans on Freephone 116 123 or Breathing Space on 0800 838587 or www.breathingspacescotland.co.uk
An independent inquiry into mental health services in Tayside is currently under way.
A Fife director is hoping to release a new film with a focus on coping with depression over the festive season in time for Christmas 2019.
‘Cold’, which has been written and produced by Kirkcaldy film maker Gavin Hugh, is being filmed in locations across Kirkcaldy, Stirling, Edinburgh and Aviemore, with two days of filming already in the can.
It is a huge personal undertaking for Gavin, who has previously worked for STV and Sky News and has been running his own Kirkcaldy-based video production business, MidgieBite Media, since late 2017 while also working part time at the Scottish Parliament as an assistant to Dundee City East MSP Shona Robison.
However, with the production funded through goodwill and his own pocket so far, Gavin and his team plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign early this year to help finish the film and release it in winter 2019.
“For a lot of us, Christmas is a happy time of year where we can celebrate and put all of our troubles to one side but for people suffering with depression it can be incredibly difficult to do that,” Gavin explained.
“We focus on how the pressure of trying to take part in the festivities and putting on a brave face just isn’t something that can be easily switched on and off in time with the days on a calendar.
“Taking care of your own mental health is easy to overlook. I’ve had my own issues with anxiety over the years, and some of the people that I’m closest to in my life have suffered from depression.
“Mental health issues can be challenging not just for the individual but for the people around them who are trying to offer support.
“As this film is drawing on a lot of personal experiences, it’s really important for me that our film gives an honest portrayal of these issues.
“While there’s an increasing awareness of mental health issues in mainstream society, we’re really hoping that the film can help encourage people to still be mindful of them at this time of year.”
Gavin has been involved in a lot of local film projects over the years, particularly with horror filmmakers Hex Media, and has recently been working closely with Robbie Davidson on his upcoming World War Two epic ‘Dick Dynamite’.
Most of the primary cast for Cold are Fifers, including Andrew Gourlay, Hana Mackenzie, Craig Seath and Iain Leslie, as are most of the technical crew.
Lead actress Rowan Birkett, a friend of Gavin’s from student days at Stirling University, has been travelling up from Ambleside in England to take part, while Dundee is also represented in Grant R Keelan, a city-based photographer who acts in the film as well as working in the technical team.
“It’s genuinely been great to work with so many talented local artists,” he added.
More details about the crowdfunding campaign will be announced in due course, and the plan is to hold a premiere of the new film in Kirkcaldy later in the year.
I’ve struggled with my mental health for seven years. I’ve got anorexia, and depression and anxiety. It started at school when I was 11. I don’t remember the root causes. I just started being really anxious and restricting what I ate, and hiding food. I felt so worthless and horrible. I hated the way I looked. I started self-harming, my mood was really low and it all spiralled out of control.
I didn’t understand what was going on. After a while, I thought it was normal to feel like that. It’s only recently that I’ve started realising that a lot of people suffer.
When I was 14 a friend noticed I wasn’t eating and was really withdrawn and told a teacher. I was really angry and annoyed but, looking back, I’m glad she did that because I wouldn’t have said anything. They then told my parents and I was referred to child and adolescent mental health services. I still didn’t think anything was wrong with me.
My parents were heartbroken. I can’t imagine how hard it is for them. I’ve put them through so much. I was in hospital for just under a year and they had to visit me and see me in such a distressed state. I think they found it really tough and still do.
I felt I couldn’t go out for ages. Even now, when I go on public transport I get really anxious. At its worst I used to panic, my heart beat faster and I started shaking. My thoughts would race and I would think that everyone was staring at me and that something bad was going to happen. Everything was exaggerated. Most times, I felt like I deserved self-harming. It was like a punishment for eating or going out.
There are days when I feel more optimistic about my future. Things are still hard but I’m doing a lot better than I was. Quite a few people have told me that they struggle with anxiety. It’s not fair. I know some amazing and lovely people; they don’t deserve to be going through that.
Harvey Sparrow, 16, Badsey, Worcestershire
When I started my GCSEs, my school was really pushing everyone, saying we all had to do well and work hard. I’ve always been the sort of person who is very motivated but the stress started building slowly and I couldn’t handle it. The thought of going to school made me nervous and I felt like I wasn’t good enough. It carried on and I felt a lot of sadness and hopelessness. It was awful.
I started feeling really detached from myself. I didn’t feel in control of my body. It turned out that was a type of anxiety. My stomach felt like it was churning. I’d feel sick when I knew I didn’t have a stomach virus. I lost concentration and if there was even a small doubt about me doing well, I’d lose focus. I couldn’t deal with it. It got really dark at times. I felt there was no point in me being here because I wasn’t bringing anything to the world. I wasn’t making my life any better. I had a lot of suicidal thoughts. I told my dad and we went to see the doctor. It took a few appointments for them to take me seriously.
A lot of my friends have anxiety around school. I thought everyone else was OK because people didn’t show it. Some of them lose out on sleep, some sleep way too much and some are very depressed. They don’t see a point in living. I know what it’s like. But to hear them say things like that is shocking when in my eyes they’re amazing. I guess they would have said the same thing about me. It’s a weird situation.
When I talk to my dad he says he never wants anything bad to happen to me. Now I’m in a good place, I’m like: “Why would I ever think of ever hurting myself?” I don’t want to throw my life away just because I’m in a bad place.
• In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email@example.com. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
Chairwoman Jill Scott said it was a “scandal” that sufferers were having to “sort out their situation” themselves following the shutdown of the Mulberry Unit at Stracathro Hospital.
Angus Health and Social Care Partnership hit back at the criticism and said it was “encouraging” that a local group of people had come together to support one another and address mental health stigma.
Mrs Scott said: “It is a very sad reflection on Angus Health and Social Care Partnership that at a time when the mental health of our community is a growing concern that the first rate Mulberry Unit is being hived off for alternative use.
“Members of the public, sufferers of depression and people of influence in Angus Health and Social Care Partnership all recognise the problem but it comes down to the patients themselves who are having to sort out their situation.
“I am full of admiration, as an individual, as is Brechin Community Council, for these people but I despair for the future.
“It is a scandal that mental health is treated as a poor relation. Patients have been hung out to dry.”
The Mulberry Unit at Stracathro Hospital in Angus was finally closed earlier this year and patients were transferred to the Carseview Centre in Dundee.
Richard May, 45, who suffers from depression, set up Stop Mental Health Stigma three weeks ago and his ultimate goal is to eventually put in place a 24-hour mental health facility.
“There is just not enough being done for people struggling with mental health issues,” he said.
“Too many suffer in silence and feel alone but we are getting people out of their houses and it’s changing lives in a very positive way.”
The group meet in Montrose on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Brechin on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Mr May, who lives in Montrose, started the group after being overwhelmed by the response when he put up a Facebook post admitting he was suffering from depression.
Bill Troup, Head of Mental Health Services, Angus Community Health Partnership said “self-management” is an element of mental health treatment.
He added: “Other local services that are available in Angus include self help groups, listening services, health and wellbeing, befriending and community mental health.
“Multidisciplinary Community Mental Health Teams are available in every town in Angus.
“It is important to remember that only six out of every 100 people who access mental health services each year need hospital care.
“With a greater focus on recovery and improved mental wellbeing in communities most people with a mental health problem are treated at home or in the community.