The PM, the mental health claims, and the characteristics of leadership

10th September, 2009 5:23 pm

BrownBy Laurie Penny / @pennyred

So. Rumour has it [well, Guido has it] that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is taking a course of mood-stabilising anti-depressants. Several major blogs and broadsheet columnists of all stripes have gone public with the allegation that Gordon Brown is taking “heavy duty antidepressants known as MAOIs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors)”. This rumour, along with what Guido reminds us are “the stories of rages, flying Nokias, smashed laser printers, tables kicked over and crying Downing Street secretaries subjected to foul-mouthed tirades”, have led many in the national press to suggest or imply that Brown’s leadership is inherently undermined by his alleged mental health difficulties, as well as by the medication he supposedly takes for those difficulties.

We have no way of substantiating this rumor, but let’s for a moment run with the assumption that that Brown is taking anti-depressants. My response? Good. Great. If the Prime Minister of Britain is suffering from depression or some other mental health condition, which given the stresses of his current position seems highly likely, then I’m glad he’s getting treatment for it. I’m glad he’s man enough to admit that he might need help. Anti-depressants are used by millions of people in this country, although the stigma attached means that many of us don’t talk about it, and in almost all cases barring those of people detained against their will in institutions, the process is both voluntary and helpful. It takes courage to go to the doctor and say that you have a problem, even if you’re not a leading political figure who’s constantly in the public eye. I only wish more politicians would follow his example – after all, it’s not as if mental health difficulties in government are unheard of.

Some of the greatest leaders the Western world has ever seen had serious mental health difficulties. Winston Churchill was plagued by crippling depression, which he referred to as ‘black dog’ and treated with that much less effective anti-depressant, booze. Lincoln was also chronically depressed and anxious. The Time To Change campaign has hilighted these examples, along with other famous figures who had mental health difficulties, such as Florence Nightingale and Charles Darwin. Last year, a Mind investigation found that large numbers of politicians and staff were forced to hide mental health problems, with 19% of MPs, 17% of Peers and 45% of staff reporting personal experience of mental health difficulties.

So is the ‘Prime Mentalist’, as he has become known in some circles, a person who has mental health problems? It certainly seems likely. Does that notion, by definition, make him unfit to lead the country? Absolutely not. Not only have plenty of great statesmen and women had mental health problems, the experience of overcoming those problems and playing to one’s strengths may even be an advantage in politics – as it is for many people who, like myself, battle mental ill health.

You need to be a bit mental to play the politics game, and if you aren’t to begin with, you might be before long – 86% of MPs say that their jobs are stressful, and at a recent Depression Alliance event Laura Moffat MP bravely told guests that her own experience of depression was a direct result of her valuable and ongoing work in poltics.

One’s mental health does not affect one’s morals or one’s ability to lead. To say that Gordon Brown is a “mentalist” may well be a valid observation, but it’s also entirely beside the point. Gordon Brown is not a weak leader because of his mental health. If he is a weak leader, it is because he lacks the courage of his convictions, because he no longer has a convincing political narrative, because he is out of steam and out of ideas.

So let’s challenge Brown for being a worn-out, uninspiring leader who we’re all a bit sick of. Let’s bring charges of cronyism, aggression, lack of charisma and lack of ideals. But don’t let’s for a moment suggest that his mental health – good or bad, medicated or unmedicated – has anything to do with it.

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Featured News Hopes rise for a Government u-turn on cuts to Opposition funding

    Hopes rise for a Government u-turn on cuts to Opposition funding

    Labour today appeared closer to forcing a Government climbdown on the planned cuts to funding for Opposition political parties. Ministers have now pledged to open a consultation on the proposed 19 per cent cut to Short Money, which would have meant Labour losing an estimated £1.2m a year. The move, which was buried in the small print of the Autumn Statement, has been branded an assault on democracy when taken with the further £6m hit expected to result from the […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Mind the £1.7 billion gap – there’s a looming crisis in adult social care

    Mind the £1.7 billion gap – there’s a looming crisis in adult social care

    As Labour councillors, it is important for us to speak up in defence of the voiceless victims of the Tories’ ideologically-driven austerity. There are many jobs performed by the state, but one of the most vital, and yet least seen, is caring for people who need it in their old age. Our ability to do that is now under threat, as is our ability to support disabled people to live independently, thanks to unprecedented Tory government cuts to local authorities […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Benn: Nuclear nations will keep bombs even if Trident is axed

    Benn: Nuclear nations will keep bombs even if Trident is axed

    Hilary Benn warned that a UK exit from the European Union would weaken our opposition to ”Russian aggression”. The shadow Foreign Secretary highlighted the “moral interest” in European nations coming together to prevent conflict and tackle climate change and poverty. The speech, given at Chatham House this morning included the advice that Putin would “shed no tears” at a Brexit. Benn argued that the Russian leader would see a leave vote as a “sign of our weakness and of the […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Why Labour will oppose the Tory ‘pay more, get less’ plan for councils

    Why Labour will oppose the Tory ‘pay more, get less’ plan for councils

    The Communities Secretary Greg Clark says he has protected funding for councils over the next four years, but no one left believes him, not even his own MPs. The Tories’ latest round of cuts takes away £1 in every £3 given to councils to pay for core services. What that means is youth services shut down, streets left unswept, bins emptied less frequently, street lights turned off at night, libraries closed, and rural bus services taken away.   Even Tory […]

    Read more →
  • Europe News Case for the EU is “stronger than ever” – Benn

    Case for the EU is “stronger than ever” – Benn

    Hilary Benn has today evoked the last Labour government’s successes on climate change and African debt relief in a heartfelt plea to persuade Britons to vote to stay in the EU. Benn, the shadow Foreign Secretary, highlighted the “moral interest” in European nations coming together to prevent conflict and tackle climate change and poverty. In a series of personal comments he also described his own transformation, from voting to leave in the last referendum, in 1975, to forming the belief […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit