Alastair Campbell talks to RSCPP about mental health and stigma

by Sarah Graham
Thursday 29 January 2015
169 1256

Alastair Campbell has worked as a tabloid newspaper journalist, and was Communications and Strategy Director to Tony Blair between 1997 and 2003. He has also spoken publicly about his struggles with mental health, and is a high profile supporter of the Time To Change campaign to end stigma.

Ahead of Time To Talk Day, on Thursday 5 February, we spoke to him about his experiences, and why tackling the stigma around mental health is so important.

Which mental health conditions have you been affected by?

Depression, addiction and one episode of psychosis. The psychosis was part of a breakdown I had in 1986, as a result of which I was hospitalised. I was advised to stop drinking. The depression comes and goes; sometimes mild, sometimes severe. If it gets really bad I take medication, and I see a psychiatrist from time to time too.

 

What have you found helpful for getting these issues under control?

Keeping busy. Sport, sleep, staying curious, medication, family, and medical support.

 

What advice would you give to someone affected by similar conditions?

Be open with those closest to you, and find a medic you can trust.

 

Why do you feel it's important that you do speak out about your mental health?

I feel that stigma and taboo, for a lot of people, can be as bad as the symptoms. We are still not nearly as open about our mental health as we are about our physical health. Until we are, the stigma and taboo will stay. Also I do think if you have a public profile, and if you have been through a situation like mine and survived, then why not use that to spread the message that it is possible to have mental health problems but still live a very full and largely happy life? I wish there were more of us.

 

What response do you get when you speak about your mental health in public?

Very positive. One of the best decisions I ever made was to be open about my breakdown. There is not a day goes by I don't get someone saying to me that they felt empowered to be more open - and sometimes to get help - because they see others doing so. That is how attitudes change, bit by bit, mind by mind.

 

Has the response changed in recent years?

It has definitely changed in that more and more people are talking about it openly. I find on the business speaking circuit that when I talk to event organisers about what they want me to talk about, a fair few actively want me to talk about mental health and business has a massive role to play in breaking down barriers. A lot of the stigma comes from people being scared to let their employer know they are struggling.

 

What can we all do to help tackle the stigma around mental health?

Be open. Accept that we all have physical health and we all have mental health; some days it is good, and some days less so. Also, sign up to the Time to Change campaign, which is a campaign aimed at changing the way we think and talk and act in relation to mental health.


Finding support


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Updated 29 January 2015