I was fortunate enough to be granted an opportunity to sit down with Alastair Campbell for a chat about mental health.
As the podcast began I started by asking Alastair about “one moment when he had the realisation that he may be suffering from a mental health difficulty” with Alastair saying that he couldn’t remember one moment but told the story of himself being in the back of a police car on his way to a cell after what he would later learn was a mental breakdown. He described banging his head against a wall in a police cell and taking off all of his clothes. One of the things that really struck me about Mr Campbell is his complete openness to talk about mental health and unload some pretty personal situations where his mental illness became very evident.
We talked about him opening up about his problem particularly in one instance when he told ex Prime Minister Tony Blair. I joked that telling my Grandma was hard enough and questioned him on what it was like to tell Tony Blair. He interestingly said it was no different to telling anyone else and stressed that Mr Blair was extremely understanding using the term “I’m not bothered.” This story should be used for every employer in the UK on how to react and what became very evident was that Tony Blair accepted Alastair’s mental illness and looked beyond it seeing his talents as a person.
We moved onto the nitty gritty topic of the politics of mental health with me questioning Alastair on what he thought about Theresa May’s speech on mental health in January. Alastair felt that it was great that the PM was talking about mental health but within seconds the tone changed and with no hesitation said “where’s the policy?” and that it is so easy to stand up and say mental health should have parity of esteem “of course it should.” He outlined the factual truth that 6000 fewer nurses were working in mental health and that funding is falling. He gave a narrative that I was all to aware of that more people are wanting to seek help which is great but when they reach out they’re simply told that there is a 6 month waiting list. He said that he felt “the only reason Theresa May gave that speech on mental health was because she doesn’t want to just be remembered for Brexit” and added “There was no real heart or passion for mental health.”
We discussed the high level of homeless people who are suffering from mental health problems and the inhumane inequalities many of these people are suffering from and discussed in depth the strides we need to take to improve mental health including an invest to save model for funding mental health services which Alastair agreed would save money.
My final question to Alastair was whether he would back a Parliament Street campaign demanding the implementation for a Minister for Mental Health with no hesitation he said “at this moment I do feel we need a minister for mental health, so yes.”
Meeting Mr Campbell was a true example of how on the issue of mental health we can cross party lines, leave partisanship behind and start helping the millions of people who so cruelly suffer from mental illness.
— Danny Bowman