Tony Blair’s former right-hand man talks to Jack Jones about mental wellbeing
Employers have a huge responsibility for the mental health of their employees,” says Alastair Campbell. He has no doubt about the important role the workplace plays. “If we want people to look at mental health in the same way they do physical health, then most of the work has to be done in the office or on the shop floor.”
This mission – to make people look at mental ill health with the same level of concern, priority and understanding as they do physical illness or injury – is one Campbell is passionate about. It is also the aim of the Time to Change charity the former political strategist helps to front.
Campbell, who has spoken about his own experiences with alcoholism and depression, believes employers would benefit from making this shift in thinking.
“People who have got through periods of mental ill health have a lot of the qualities people are looking for in the modern economy,” he explains. “They are often very creative and resilient and they understand failure and setback, which is a very important thing.”
But at present, Campbell worries there is widespread – and understandable – discrimination against people who have suffered bouts of mental ill health.
“There is a failure to understand the reality that things like depression and anxiety and OCD are illnesses, they’re not choices. If somebody has depression, why should they be treated differently from somebody who regularly gets a cold, or regularly has to go to hospital for dialysis?” he asks.
But often these people are treated differently, and this is reflected in hiring decisions. Campbell asks what employers would do when faced with two CVs that are identical but for a six-month gap while a candidate went through drug rehab, or recovered from a mental breakdown.
“We all know they’re going to veer towards the other person,” he says. “But I try to persuade employers to change how they think. I advise them to really think about veering the other way.”
And this change of mind set should not stop at recruitment decisions.
“Organisations have to get the message that the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees is an asset to them as a company,” says Campbell. “So keep an eye out for people – don’t just see them as there to work, work, work. Ask about looking after themselves? Is there more you can do?”
Campbell says the pastoral role played by trade unions helped him when he worked as a journalists in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“We had these people in the union called the Father or the Mother of the Chapel,” he explains. “So there was one person you could go to if you had a problem. If we had that kind of network put together by employers that would be brilliant – for them as well as the employees.”
For ten years Alastair Campbell was Tony Blair’s right-hand man as communications strategist and chief spokesman. He remains a key figure on the political stage, with considerable connections on both sides of the Atlantic.
Campbell has published three volumes of his diaries as well as two novels, written features on sport and politics, advised several bodies and stepped up his fundraising efforts for Leukaemia Research.
Alastair Campbell will be speaking at Reward Live at 17.05 on Wednesday 10 May. Reward Live takes place at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Birmingham and is free to attend.