Alastair Campbell, former Director of Communications for No 10, says Winston Churchill might never have made it to the top job if he'd worked in 21st Century Britain. He believes modern-day attitudes to mental health are in some ways more discriminatory now than then, and that Churchill's depression, which he famously called his black dog, would have been held against him.
The claim is part of a report released today, co-authored by Campbell and historian Nigel Jones, on behalf of mental health campaign Time to Change. It looks at five great historical figures, all of whom had mental health problems, and suggests they may have fared less well had they worked under the intense glare of today's media and often unforgiving public scrutiny.
The report, entitled A World Without, examines the achievements of Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie and asks how different our world would be if they had been sidelined because of prejudice about mental problems; without a President Lincoln, who held the United States together through civil war and led the fight to abolish slavery, would we have seen a President Obama? Without Florence Nightingale, described by psychiatrists of today as a classic case of Bipolar Disorder, would modern healthcare have developed as it has? Without Marie Curie, hospitalised because of her depression, how many more people would have been killed by cancer?
The report is published alongside research showing continuing and substantial discrimination against people with mental health problems in the workplace. A new survey for Time to Change shows 29% of people think someone with a mental health problem is unable to do a responsible job. It reflects the views of employers, 60% of whom say they wouldn't feel able to employ someone with mental health problems even though they affect one in four people in Britain at some stage in life. This kind of stigma has a real impact on peoples lives. Time to Change research shows that nearly nine out of ten people who have experienced mental ill health have experienced stigma and discrimination as a result often from employers.
Alastair Campbell says: “Churchill was by common consent Britain's greatest ever leader, and voted the greatest ever Briton, but I wonder whether his depression would have stopped him becoming Prime Minister in modern Britain. It seems impossible to imagine our history, and particularly our Second World War history, without him. It could have taken a very different course had he not been leading Britain against Hitler's Germany. Yet as I watch politicians and other public figures deal with the pressures of modern leadership, not least dealing with harsh 24 hour scrutiny, I sometimes wonder how these great historic figures would have fared had they been alive today . Churchill with his depressions, drinking and long lie-ins; Darwin with his severe anxiety that showed up in stomach disorders, crippling headaches, agoraphobia, trembling, palpitations of the heart, and mental torment which often left him in floods of tears. Would the media and public have been understanding about their conditions? These statistics suggest otherwise. I am not convinced that a modern politician who admitted to mental health problems would be able to get to the top. The five people we focus on all made an enormous impact on our world, still felt by all of us, but it is worth at least asking the question how they would have fared had they been alive today.
Campbell continues: “I know from my own experience how important employers are in the process of recovery. When Tony Blair asked me to work for him in 1994, I told him about my breakdown and my drink problem. He said he wasn't worried. If a Prime Minister can have that attitude, then I think it is about time the six out of ten who say they wouldn't consider taking on someone with a history of mental illness join the four out of ten who say they would. It is time to change.
Campbell, and historian Nigel Jones wrote the report on behalf of Time to Change - England's biggest and most ambitious campaign to end mental health discrimination. It's run by leading mental health charities Mental Health Media, Mind and Rethink, and backed by £16 million from the Big Lottery Fund and £2 million from Comic Relief. Campbell is fronting press adverts for the campaign alongside Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry.
Sue Baker, Time to Change Director adds: "Time and time again people with mental health problems say that other people's prejudice, fear and discrimination can have a worse impact than the problem itself. The World Without report demonstrates how wrong we are getting it on mental health the people featured in it are responsible for shaping the world as we know it and yet today we often won't give people with mental health problems a chance. With one in four of us experiencing a mental health problem at some stage, this is an issue that affects all of us - whether it is directly or a family member or friend. We,ve got to realise that stigma, discrimination, and outdated attitudes wreck lives. But it doesn't have to be this way this is the beginning of a social movement that can change things for the better.
For interviews with Alastair Campbell, and/or a Time to Change spokesperson please contact Hilary Caprani, Media Manager on 020 7840 3144 / 07870 204 583.
NOTES TO EDITORS
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,0331 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23rd-26th January 2009. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). World Without was written by Alastair Campbell and historian Nigel Jones.
About Time to Change:
Time to Change is England's most ambitious programme to end the discrimination faced by people with mental health problems, and improve the nation's wellbeing. Mental Health Media, Mind, and Rethink are leading the programme, funded £16m from the Big Lottery Fund and £2m from Comic Relief and evaluated by the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London. For further information go to www.time-to-change.org.uk
About The Big Lottery Fund:
The Big Lottery Fund's support for Time to Change comes from its £165m Well-being programme, which provides funding to support the development of healthier lifestyles and to improve well-being. The Big Lottery Fund has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since its inception in June 2004. It was established by Parliament on 1 December 2006. Full details of the Big Lottery Fund, its programmes and awards are available on the website: www.biglotteryfund.org.uk Big Lottery Fund Press Office: 020 7211 1888/ Out of hours: 07867 500 572 Public Enquiries Line: 08454 102030 / Textphone: 08456 021 659
About Comic Relief:
Comic Relief is committed to supporting people living with mental health problems. The projects Comic Relief funds ensure people with mental health problems get their voices heard in the decisions that affect their lives and to get the help they need to recover. Comic Relief also helps people to promote their rights and reduce the stigma and discrimination they face so that they feel more included in society. The £2 million grant to Time to Change is part of Comic Relief's long standing commitment to this issue. For more information go to www.comicrelief.com