In an intensely personal and often surprising film for BBC Two, Depression And Me, Alastair Campbell explores if radical new treatments can stop his depression.
“I’ve been on antidepressants for years and years and none of them can stop it. I want to understand my depression and find out if modern science has any better ways of treating it. I’m hoping there’s something out there that can help me lead a happier life.” – Alastair Campbell
Campbell is best known for his role as Tony Blair’s formidable and often contentious spin doctor but, away from the public eye, he has been dogged by crippling bouts of depression for most of his life. Some days, just getting out of bed is too hard. Therapy and anti-depressant medication is helping him keep his head above water – but is that really the best he can hope for?
“I feel we are nearing a tipping point in the battle to demolish the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness and TV is a very good medium for bringing these issues right out into the open. I have never regretted being open about my own issues but an important part of this film is also seeing my depression through the eyes of members of my family, especially my partner Fiona. I was also keen to get out there and find out what kind of progress was being made on the scientific and research front. There is a lot going on. My worry is that we are winning the battle for better awareness but losing the battle for the services we need.” – Alastair Campbell
While accompanying Neil Kinnock’s tour of Scotland in 1986 it was the first signs something was seriously wrong. Campbell began to display increasingly erratic behaviour, including taking a hire car to the Rosyth Dockyard where he dumped it. He continued on that day, following Kinnock on to Perth, Falkirk and finally Hamilton where he had a nervous breakdown and was arrested by two special branch detectives.
Police contacted his partner and following her calls to friends in Scotland the police let a family friend take Campbell to Ross Hall Hospital, a private BMI hospital in Glasgow where his friend and her family regularly visited him. Over the next five days as an in-patient he was given medication to calm him, and he realised that he had an alcohol problem after seeing a psychiatrist. Campbell said that from that day onwards he counted each day that he did not drink alcohol, and did not stop counting until he had reached thousands.
Campbell returned to England, preferring to stay with friends near Cheltenham, rather than return to his family home in London due to feelings of being unsafe in the capital. His condition continued with a phase of depression, and he was reluctant to seek further medical help. He eventually cooperated with treatment from his family doctor.
This spell of drink and depression was later made into an award-winning documentary, Cracking Up, which was broadcast on the beeeb. Since his pubic awareness drive about depression Alastair has been a prominent supporter and advocate for the mental health anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change.
“I was very pleased with the reaction to the [latest] film in Sheffield [at Doc/Fest]. One film alone cannot change the world but there is finally the focus on these issues that we need and hopefully one day we will have services to match.” – Alastair Campbell
Encouraged by his partner Fiona and his daughter Grace, Campbell sets out to explore if science can offer him – and the millions of people like him – the hope of one-day living depression-free. It will be shown as part of BBC Two’s Science strand Horizon later this year.