Back to the depression front today, with two very different stories to report from different parts of the world.
First from Australia, where senior politician Kevin Foley has held an emotional press conference to ‘confess’ that for several years he has been treated for depression. South Australia’s Labour deputy Prime Minister and finance minister, Foley ‘came out’ after Opposition spokesman spokesman Steven Griffiths questioned his mental fitness to do the job.
Then from Germany, and a dreadful article by someone called Lucy Kellaway of Financial Times Deutschland. Yes, that’s Deutschland as in Germany, where following the suicide of depressive German goalkeeper Robert Enke last week, you might have expected a bit more sensitivity.
Instead, Kellaway wrote a glib piece which concluded – totally wrongly – that is it ‘best to stay schtum’ about mental illness in the workplace. ‘The truth is that given our ignorance and squeamishness about mental health, it is probably better to shut up about it,’ she says. If this is ‘the truth’, God help us. Ignorance and squeamishness are there to be challenged, not pandered to and surely, if there is one thing Enke’s tragic death tells us, it is that being open is better than trying to keep mental illness secret.
Kellaway says she can think of only four people who have been publicly open about their mental illness – Stephen Fry, me, Norway’s former PM, Kjell Magne Bondevik, and businessman Dennis Stevenson. She says Stephen doesn’t count because he is a national treasure, I don’t count because I have a reputation for being hard and mean, and Bondevik doesn’t count because he is Norwegian! She is not entirely clear why Dennis does count and the rest of us don’t, but there we are. I did warn you it was glib.
Time to Change, the mental health campaign aimed at breaking down stigma and discrimination, has written a letter of complaint to FT Deutschland, whose headline asked ‘why does mental illness still remain taboo?’ The answer lies in articles like Kellaway’s.
It is the same stigma which stopped Kevin Foley talking about it before, and made his opponents think he could be attacked for it. If my experience is anything to go by, Foley will still get depression, but he will not regret his new found openness. He can also be a fifth name for Ms Kellaway to trot out the next time she embraces a subject she does not understand, and to which her article contributed nothing but evidence of how much further we have to travel before the work of Time to Change is done.