Earlier on this evening, I bumped into John Woodcock who I’ve known since my days at The Scotsman. He’s swapped journalism for politics and is now Labour MP for Barrow and Furness. We met in an ITV studio, and I asked what he was going on to talk about. “Popping pills,” he replied. He has decided to go public about the fact that he is being treated for depression – which is no small decision for an MP. It has, historically, been the sort of thing people keep quiet about. And that’s what John is trying to change.
At any one time, about two million of us are being treated for depression. But people don’t tend not to talk about it – which, of course, can create the impression that it’s something to be embarrassed about. Or that it’s somehow rare and unusual. There is a lingering, incorrect idea that depressive illness is in some way a function of personality. As doctors will tell you, anyone can get depression – just like anyone can break their leg. John Woodcock traces his condition to when he fell from a ladder and hurt his head, but I have friends who arrived at depression through overwork and others to whom it just happened. The hardest part, often, is coming to terms with the nature of depression – a step made harder by the fact that so few of those affected talk about it.
Dr Tim Cantopher calls depression “the curse of the strong” as it can come from pushing yourself too hard, and exacts a particular penalty on those who tell themselves that they’re being stupid, and that they can wish the condition away. It’s like trying to walk on a broken ankle: it won’t get any better.
When you break you leg, you rest it and take exercises to recover. As John says in his piece, he’s taking medication to try to get through it and getting on with his life – in the way that hundreds of thousands of Brits are doing right now. I wish John the best of luck shaking off the black dog, and admire his characteristic courage in the way he has gone about it. In taking openly about depression, he will make it that bit easier for others to do the same. I’ll leave the last word to him:
Despite being below par, I honestly think I have continued to be able to do a decent job for the area I represent as I have been recovering. But I am impatient to do more. And I just hate it, and hate myself, when I sit down to play with my wonderful daughters, aged one and four, but find within minutes that their boundless energy and chatter reduces my head to painful mush and I have to take myself away from them…
I really don’t think it need be a big deal. And if it does turn out to be, well at least I might make it a bit easier for next person who is in the public eye feeling like this. So I am going to carry on getting on with the job of doing my best for my constituents. Feel free to try to cheer me up with smut if you want, but only if that is the kind of thing you would have done anyway.