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.
Mental health blogs by Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell talks about telling Tony Blair about his depression – When Tony Blair asked Alastair Campbell to work for him in 1994, he revealed his mental health problems to the man who would be Prime Minister.
Media portrayal of depression: we’ve still got a long way to go – India Knight can be a good and interesting columnist so it was a real shame to read her ill-informed, irresponsible and plain wrong views on depression in The Sunday Times yesterday
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.”