British Politicians Bravely Face Mental Illness Taboo
> 4/21/2008 3:40:16 PM

The British have traditionally insisted that their men hold stiff upper lips, but admissions of mental illness may be easier now that two prominent members of Tony Blairís former administration have come forth with their painful stories. If citizens see their political leaders opening up about mental problems, they may have less fear of looking weak when asking for help or understanding.

Alastair Campbell, once Blairís consummate Director of Communications, is publishing a novel about mental health and relationships, entitled All in the Mind, this November. While none of his characters are strictly autobiographical, Campbell was brave enough to make himself vulnerable to serve as an example. He revealed his history of depression to the Independent in 2006. Campbell got his job because he understood the power of image and spin, and he realized that he could use his public relations skill in the realm of mental health as well as politics. The disclosure that a powerful and seemingly flourishing man could suffer from depression in secret, and then share his problem with the world, inspired many others to seek help.

Another sign that the stigma against admitting mental illness is fading came yesterday when the former deputy prime minister John Prescott told the Sunday Times that he has long battled with bulimia. Many readers were shocked to see this admission from the tough man who became famous for punching a heckler in the face. Prescottís words go a long way towards breaking down the stereotypes that surround bulimia. The popular image of the bulimic is the young girl, purging herself so that she can fit into a smaller dress. Prescott is 70 years old, and he has the face and the pugnaciousness of a bulldog. His struggle is evidence that anyone can suffer from an eating disorder. While current studies suggest that only 10% of bulimics are male, this number has been rising and there may be many more men that have been afraid to come forward or unaware that it was even possible for them to have an eating disorder. †

High-profile people have the power to shift public perception of mental illnesses. Because of their image as effective and powerful people, political and economic leaders in particular can break down stigmas by showing that even high-achievers and those in seemingly enviable positions can have severe mental health problems. If American leaders follow the example of Campbell and Prescott, it would greatly diminish the negative stereotypes surrounding mental illness.

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