“Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s formidable spin doctor for seven years, has revealed that, far from being invincible in Downing Street, he suffered clinical depression.”
A short article in the Times today reports on how Campbell was crippled by his depression, once missing a media briefing because he was “unable to face it” and how he “was very depressed for a long time. You wake up and can’t open your eyes, you can’t find the energy to brush your teeth, the phone rings and you stare at it endlessly”.
It goes on to describe how Campbell was desperately self medicating with alcohol before his first psychotic “nervous breakdown” in 1989 when he was arrested whilst driving round and round a roundabout and further, how his more recent depression reached a peak on the day of David Kelly’s suicide in the Hutton inquiry.
An invaluable addition to this article would have been to explain why Campbell was depressed.
As an extremely short overview: The nature of Campbell’s job was a highly stressful one (obviously), and there was never any shortage of things to worry about, creating a lot of negative expectations.
Excessive worrying leads to over stimulation of the autonomic nervous system (emotional arousal). All these worries that are not resolved during the day (“Will I lose my job?”, “Will Tony Blair lose his job?” ) are translated into dreams during the night, which are designed to bring the emotional arousal down. Campbell was waking up tired because he was experiencing abnormal amounts of highly active REM sleep to counteract his excessive worrying, resulting in higher activation of the exhausting orientation response, and accordingly, deprivation of restorative slow wave sleep.
Eventually, with enough stress, the distinction between waking reality and dreaming reality is blurred, which in turn leads to psychosis – a frightening and uncontrollable ‘breakdown’.
Making it all worse were the “spiralling out of control” feelings that Campbell confessed to experiencing during the Hutton enquiry. Feeling in control of a situation is a given, and if there is nothing we can conceivably do about something, we are obviously more liable to feel that we can’t cope anymore and worry endlessly about something we cannot resolve.
Every time depression is mentioned in the media in this way, it serves to heighten awareness of mental health issues, but even better would be to give information about why these conditions occur, and perhaps even what could be done about them.
It is so frustrating to us to see these well intentioned articles (Alastair Campbell revealed this information in an interview especially for World Mental Health day) not being able to provide basic information about the causes and treatments of depression.
Posted by: Eleanor