Media portrayal of depression: we've still got a long way to go

Alastair Campbell, Time to Change supporterIndia 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. I know columnists have to scrabble for attention in a crowded, over competitive market at a time the reputation and sales of newspapers are falling. But her dive for the lowest common denominator was sad to see.

Once you get through the sense that she views depression as a lifestyle choice of the rich and famous, who want a medal for having the 'bravery' to speak out about it, you are left with two main points of view in her piece: there is no stigma around depression; and 'everybody gets depressed.'

The second statement reveals her ignorance of the fact that depression is an illness,

The second statement reveals her ignorance of the fact that depression is an illness, not a passing mood. Would she ever think to say 'everyone gets malaria ... everyone gets cancer ... everyone gets AIDS'? I doubt it, because she knows these are illnesses that strike some but not all of us. To say that 'Everybody gets depressed' suggests that though she says she knows depression is an illness, in truth she does not really accept that.

'Everybody gets fed up' would be accurate. I am fed up today because of the weather. I am fed up because George Osborne is Chancellor and cannot see the irony of the huge wealth he inherited on 'coming of age', and his attack on the something for nothing culture he claims to be dismantling by making the poor a lot poorer. I am fed up that Burnley keep taking the lead in matches only to throw it away. I am fed up that a builder in the street is currently making too much noise. I am fed up that in part because of the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness, reinforced by columns like India Knight's, mental health services are being cut piecemeal around the country, with barely a flicker of protest of the anger that there should be as the most vulnerable get hit by the cuts. All of this makes me fed up, angry, not depressed.

I do not always know what makes me depressed

I do not always know what makes me depressed. What I do know is that I am currently on medication for a particularly bad bout which struck a few months ago, without warning and with real venom, which plunged me into an emptiness and mental pain I have known before, and which my psychiatrist felt required a sustained period on a new drug that I had not tried before. I get fed up taking it, because I hate drugs, but the depression has definitely eased, all but those closest to me have probably not noticed anything, and I reckon within a few weeks I will be off it, until the next time.

As for India Knight's claim that stigma does not exist, what I would say to that is this: I have no qualms whatever about being open about my mental health problems, not least because Time to Change is campaigning for genuine parity of understanding and services in physical and mental health. Added to which I am not short of opportunities, not worrying about losing a job or looking for a new one.

can take you to meet people who say the stigma and taboo leading to discrimination in the workplace can sometimes be worse than the symptoms

But many who suffer from depression are not so lucky. So when they are ill with depression, they are more likely to call in and say they have the flu, because people understand that; or say they have to take their Mum to hospital; or their child is off sick. All because they are not always sure how their employer or colleague will react. And that, dear India, is stigma, and I can take you to meet people who say the stigma and taboo leading to discrimination in the workplace can sometimes be worse than the symptoms.

Or perhaps in addition to a response from me, you will get one from the nurse I met recently who felt compelled to 'hide' six months of her life from her CV, six months almost a decade ago when she was off with chronic post natal depression, because she was not sure how her NHS employer would react to it as she went for promotion. The NHS no less, reinforcing stigma and taboo.

we are thankfully starting to see changes emerge

Time to Change has been campaigning for years to challenge negative attitudes and behaviours towards people with mental health problems and we are thankfully starting to see changes emerge. But for every step forward, there can be a step back, and that is what her article showed. It was unhelpful, potentially damaging and certainly showed we still have quite a way to go.

What do you think about the issues raised in this blog? Share your views with us on Twitter >>

Or pledge to share your experience of mental health today and find out how talking tackles discrimination.


This article was first published on alastaircampbell.org

Related page: Alastair Campbell talks about mental health


Comments

India Knight

Thank you for this well timed article. I have read India Knight's deeply hostile and ungracious Twitter attacks on those who have dared to disagree with her. She calls them 'deranged', 'thick', a 'pitch-fork brigade', c***t. She tells posters who disagree with her to 'stop whining'. She taunts 'Diddums' at another. Their rage makes them feel 'special' apparently. She giggles that some of the complainers are 'clearly not well'. She calls the charity Mind c**ks. She may delete these comments, but possibly she stands by them. What a nasty diatribe from a privileged and educated journalist towards those who have been upset and hurt by her words. If her article left you in any doubt about her attitude to the mentally ill, then a quick read of her deeply offensive comments since then on Twitter will show you her true colours. Does it not occur to her that those who are expressing anger are deeply hurt by her article? Not whining. Not thick. Hurt. Her article might have made an interesting point had it been couched in more humane terms. As it is she has merely shown herself up as not a very nice person. She trumpets that her own father suffered with clinical depression for twenty years. A pity then that she shows so little insight into the feelings of those who suffer with his condition.

Is it I the UK???

I am originally from Poland and as you have to give credit to a country that's developing fast, most population will harbour the same views about depression or more serious mental conditions. People who report chronic depression are being taunted at as 'crazy', 'mental' ('psychiczny'), or at best as just 'negative', 'whining', 'moaning'... They are seen as they chose their condition and can change the thinking in short term or 'snap out' of it, and we know cure, healing or even improvement doesn't come as fast, taking months and years and in some sadder cases, a whole adult life. Reading her views I felt instantly back in some more backward underdeveloped regions of my 'home country', where I couldn't find or hold down a job for longer than 3-5 months despite my good English and education, intelligence (and intrinsic humbleness of course! Lol). I had to resign from a semi decent job at exports because my colleagues and bosses saw my depression and started treating me like shit and I was not afforded with a sick leave to deal with the problem and come back to work. Why has someone decided to bring Britian back decades at time at some point recently, to start viewing discrimination as normal and not reprehensible, with the likes of India, EDL, BNP, gay haters and others PC-policy haters. I agree PC has gone awry with its strange technical terminologies, but at the end of the day it is about seeing a human in another human and trying to treat him fairly, despite his differences. India is humanity-challenged. I will not say anything offensive about India. Inhuman.

I have no idea what India

I have no idea what India Knight is so angry about to treat people who disagree with her (and quite rightly) with such contempt. Maybe she is scared & uncomfortable with mental illness & having the attitude she does is her defense? Whatever the case it's not acceptable. I made the mistake of disclosing my OCD to my boss when I was having a bad week. Bear in mind I have learnt to function in spite of it, live a completely normal life and you wouldn't know unless I told you. I explained to her that my OCD was quite bad that week so I was feeling a little down, but could carry on fine and it would lift in a few days as it usually does. The next thing I knew I was sent straight to occ. health as she had deemed me unfit to work. She accused me of using my patients to offload my problems on & said that because of what I had disclosed she would have to put me under performance review. Before this, my other managers had only good words about my work & I was regularly receiving praise & accolades. In short she made me feel like I was diseased & not to be trusted. You know the saddest thing of all? I work in mental health & she is a CPN who regularly deals with sufferers of MH diagnoses. Luckily occ. health saw it the same way I did & laughed off my bosses claims that I was unfit to work. In the future I wouldn't tell any colleagues about my diagnosis unless I knew I could trust them. In this day & age it is shocking that mental health is still stigmatised the way it is.

Thank you for your answer to India Knight!

In the same way as homophobic language gets punished by law, I wish any attack against mental health sufferers was punished too! What a shame that a journalist like India Knight shows so little compassion and understanding. Talking about depression always helps me so much and reading that I am not the only one helps tremendously too! I am so grateful to the people who "come out" and I too, am starting to, to friends and work colleagues. It feels good to be able to say "I can't come out tonight because my depression is giving me a tough time" rather than constantly have to make up exhausting social lies. We still need more help though, especially in the workplace. I have missed out on great jobs and promotions because I get ill and need time off. Not fair and very hard to accept (especially where you are a hugely driven / career orientated / work-non-stop person like me!!). I am hoping things will continue to improve for us though. The end of clinical trials phase II for Naurex's GLYX-13 (an AD that starts being effective in hours instead of weeks!) coming up in December is giving me great hope. So are the number of people who are opening up about their depression and all the steps forward that "Time to Change" has made possible. Society by in large seems to be more understanding too although, I think we still need to keep talking!!!

India Knight.

I have suffered from depression since I was nine years old. I have had three severe bouts of Depression (capital letter is deliberate) in my life. During the worst bout I managed to get a 2:1 in Modern History & Modern Languages from the University of Oxford which is also India Knight's alma mater. Since then I have also achieved an M.A. in the History of Art. I did no worse academically than any of my peers in spite of my Depression, my Dyslexia or my Dyspraxia.I believe I did no worse than Ms Knight. Therefore when she calls me a fool she holds a mirror up to herself. When a woman who is held to be mature, educated and generally compassionate resorts to the language of the playground I am genuinely sad for her. For the record Depression does not make you feel special, it makes you feel isolated. I cannot be honest with my employer about my mental health as a I have seen how other members of my department with similar mental health conditions were treated by other colleagues. When I have applied for other jobs and have been honest about my mental health I have been turned down on the flimsiest of pretexts, in terms that do not stand up to scrutiny. This is despite the fact that I have never taken time off work for depression & the fact that I could have done the job with my hands tied behind my back.The stigma is very real & I am being forced to live a lie because of it.

The Stigma.

I remember how angry I was, during Tony Blair's premiership, about Alastair Campbell. This “smarmy, self-righteous, manipulative liar masquerading as a force for good in Government”. I am, however, surprised to find myself being wholly sympathetic to Mr Campbell. Back then, I forgot that I didn't know the man that I was being so critical of. I still don’t. But, because of India Knight's totally irrelevant and ignorant comments, I find myself now reading about his first touch with this wholly debilitating, devastating and crucifying illness and I pray that he will be fortunate enough that the medication will work and keep the fathomless and paralyzing darkness from the door of his heart. Regarding the stigma, I applaud him for admitting publicly to his experience. But then, who would really confront or ridicule a man of his stature. Me? I'm only an ordinary nobody. No-one outside my closest family and my wife know what I have gone through over the years and then for them, it has really only been a glimpse. The experience and the stigma changed our lives and actually cost me a very well paid job and career in Northern Ireland's largest employer, an aerospace company in Belfast that I shan’t name. Back then, I can honestly say that I have never, ever suffered persecution like it. It was my wife that made me leave and if I hadn’t, I would not be here today to write this. So thank you Mr. Campbell.

India Knight

However, I well remember India Knight getting furious at a tweet of mine when I suggested that the closure of the News of the World was no cause for commiseration, because of how beastly this was to those journalists working on it. Aside from the fact that many of them would have been simply waiting for the Sun on Sunday to be launched, this shows India Knight's priorities: to rush to the defence of the worst type of hacking tabloid hacks working for the Murdoch empire (as she does), but to sneer and pour scorn on ordinary people suffering from depression.

Thanks

Thanks Alastair. It's good to have you on-side. The attitude of the likes of India Knight, judging by her article & consequent Tweets, is clearly that those who experience depression are somehow weak & inferior. It's so important to have a spokesperson such as you - possibly the last person on earth I'd fancy entering into a debate with! - to fight our corner publicly.

India Knight

It is people like India Knight that perpetuate the stigma surrounding Depression and Anxiety. I suffer both and wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I believe this attitude goes beyond the media though, the DWP treat us like we are job shy shirkers, using ATOS to force people who are not ready to face 'normal' life back into an uncaring system which just ends up dragging you back to where you are trying to get away from. I have come off of my tablets as I felt they were not helping me and I am now feeling how it truly affects me without drugs, not a nice place I can assure you. We just need those in seats of power to understand and not to persecute us.

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