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Mental Health: Alistair Campbell, And His other Side

Thursday, May 28th, 2009 Mental Health: Alistair Campbell, And His other Side

He was undoutedly Tony Blairs side kick, but today, he campaigns and is steadfast when it comes to mental health issues. In a fascinating report by Mary O’Hara of the Guardian (27/05/09) we will explore the views and most certainly the gentler side of this giant, Alistair Campbell.

The serious side is that Alistair Campbell has suffered from long term, recurring depression, thus he is a voice with experience.

He articulates extremey well, when discussing the relevance and the way forward on, what was once the Cinderella in relation to health.

From his own perspective, he argues, “When you have got the dark cloud descending, life does feel pretty shitty,” he says. “I regularly count my blessings. It’s a really nice life, but if you get depression then it doesn’t matter. This is what drives you crazy about people saying: ‘What’s wrong? What triggered it?’ It doesn’t matter. You don’t know.” Not waiting to be asked, he volunteers: “When did I last feel like that? Just after Easter for about three days. It wasn’t bad bad bad. I woke up with a kind of numbness.

“What happened to me is a really important part of who I am and what I am,” he says, recalling his breakdown at the age of 28 and the subsequent, although less debilitating, depressions over the years. “I really feel that quite strongly. Proud is the wrong word, but I certainly feel a lot stronger as a human being as a result of getting through it.”

O’Hara describes Campbell as ’softly spoken’ and ‘content to talk at length about a subject many people would run a mile from.’ A far cry from the controversial spin doctor we have got to know. Her interview suggests he ‘appears about as far removed as you could get from his public image as Tony Blair’s bombastic bully-in-chief or that of the foul-mouthed fictional spin-meister, Malcolm Tucker, from the BBC’s The Thick of It and its movie spin-off In the Loop, for which he inadvertently provided considerable inspiration.’

Mary O’Hara goes on to say, ‘Campbell has had multiple incarnations before and since his days as a king of spin, including journalist, Leukaemia Research fundraiser.’ More recently, Campbell has been in the spot light for being named Mind Champion of the year.

However the contrast is stark, from being seen as a somewhat bully to a hero on mental health awareness.

Campbell says, “I think you’ve always got to differentiate between the media and the public, It’s not the same. Look, there are some people who don’t like you. There are some people who will have read the Daily Mail and believed and absorbed that, and therefore think I’m a terrible, terrible person, but I don’t get that feeling as I go around the place. Most people don’t think about me. I’m not on their radar.”

Furthermore, on himself, he argues that his behaviour has often been misread and states candidly,”The ones who say ‘he’s a bully and a liar’, when you actually ask them to come up with something that substantiates it they sort of blather on. I think with a lot of these journalists, an image develops. Well, there might be something in it. I have to accept I can be very aggressive, very full-on. I can be very combative - probably less than I was, because I have less reason to be.”

Campbell is a most formidable man and has successfully published his own novel, ‘All in the Mind’ which also has mental health connotations based on his own life experiences with depression. He has also participated alongside the BBC’s documentary, ‘Cracking Up’, whereby he explored the origins of his own illness. In recent years he has become involved with an anti-stigma campaign ‘Time To Change’, and speaks frankly about his illness.

Campbell, similarly has been open about his alcohol misuse, his breakdown and admission into a mental health unit. His responses from others todate with regards to MIND have been positive.

More specifically in relation to MIND, Campbell recently helped launch a new campaign surrounding the issues of male mental health. He takes the view point, “There’s no reason I can think of why men should be any less likely to get depressed than women, yet twice as many women are diagnosed with depression. Why? Because they are probably more open. Also they are more likely to go to see the doctor, and are more likely to take medication. At every level of that, men are resistant. You don’t want to admit that something is wrong with you. You certainly don’t want to admit that you’ve got some kind of mental weakness, because men are meant to be strong.”

He does appear to be a strong advocate for those who suffer mental health problems, and let’s face it, the more the merrier.

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