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

September 10, 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

  • News Scotland have voted No to independence, say LabourList readers

    Scotland have voted No to independence, say LabourList readers

    In a few hours time, we will find out that Scotland has voted against independence – according to LabourList readers, anyway. 77% of those who took our survey this week said they thought that the outcome of today’s referendum would be a No vote. Despite polls have closed in over the past fortnight, our readers are confident that Scots will have chosen to preserve the Union. 23% think that the result will be in favour of Yes. Only two polls in […]

    Read more →
  • News Lift cap on borrowing so councils can build – say Labour PPCs, councillors and AMs

    Lift cap on borrowing so councils can build – say Labour PPCs, councillors and AMs

    A group of London-based Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, councillors and London Assembly Members have written an open letter (published in the Guardian), calling on party leadership to go further in their policy commitments when it comes to building houses. Although the letter praises Ed’s pledge that the next Labour government “will build 200,000 homes a year by 2020″, the cohort which include urge leadership to commit to lifting what they deem the “arbitrary cap [placed on councils] on borrowing to build”. […]

    Read more →
  • News Are Labour going to make the NHS the focal point of the 2015 campaign?

    Are Labour going to make the NHS the focal point of the 2015 campaign?

    Earlier this week, a poll found that Labour hold an 18-point lead over the Tories as the most trusted party on the NHS – the only topic voters consider a “major issue” that sees a Labour lead. The NHS being a crucial issue of the Scottish referendum, with both sides accusing the other of lying. Many of today’s votes rest on whether they trust Yes Scotland or Better Together’s claims about the health service. Now reports say that Labour are considering […]

    Read more →
  • Comment We stand up for human value – we proudly defend the Human Rights Act

    We stand up for human value – we proudly defend the Human Rights Act

    If you’re part of the Labour Party, or hold any similar values, you will certainly share the absolute belief in respect and dignity for everyone. I don’t think anyone in our movement, with our principles, would disagree. And so, with those common values, we are entirely right to stand up, loud and proud, for the Human Rights Act. The publication this week of Human Rights: Reflections on the 1998 Act by Jonathan Cooper in Stephen Hockman’s Law Reform 2015 (with […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Scotland Friendship and solidarity must prevail, as the fog clears

    Friendship and solidarity must prevail, as the fog clears

    The air hangs thick this morning with the referendum. Last night a deep fog rolled down across Edinburgh, but in reality it is the campaign which has blotted the vision and stopped even the keenest of observers from seeing what lies just a few footsteps ahead. The final days has provided one crucial clarification though – the No campaign is capable of great passion and powerful rhetoric. Mocked, endlessly criticised, a reputation dragged through the muck. Despite it all – […]

    Read more →