Depression is not just a personal struggle

I’m not going to criticise Ruth Davidson for speaking publicly about her struggles with mental health issues when she was younger. There was, and is, a veritable epidemic of mental health problems, of depression, of low self-esteem, of self-harm, of self-medication on drugs and alcohol, and of suicidal thoughts, especially amongst young people, and especially young LGBT people. It’s not new. It’s been an issue for a very long time. All that has changed is the willingness of people to speak about their experiences in public.

I too experienced something similar when I was younger. Realising that you were gay in the 1970s when you are from a Catholic family in a working class community in the East End of Glasgow and going to school at a comprehensive in Coatbridge was no bundle of laughs. I used to cry myself to sleep at night, terrified that anyone would discover my awful secret. That I was one of “them”. I would wish fervently that it would all go away. I thought about suicide, about running away and disappearing. I knew that I’d get no support from the people that you’re told to take your problems to as a young person, my parents or my teachers.  Or, laughably, the priest.  They were the last people I wanted to tell.

Round about the time I realised I was gay, a couple of older boys in my school were caught kissing under the stairs in a quiet corner of the school. They were disappeared, whisked off somewhere to be “looked after”, and we were forbidden to mention them. I lived with the terror that someone would find out that I was just the same as those boys, and I too would be disappeared. All around me society told me that I was a sick individual, a pervert, doomed to lonely and unfulfilled life, while I swam in a soup of insults and slurs and verbal abuse directed against a community that none of those uttering those words knew I was a part of. So you lied about yourself in order to survive, and then by lying you came to doubt everything about yourself, because no one who knew you knew the real you, they only knew the lie. Eventually I coped, or rather didn’t cope, with my problems by self-medicating on drugs.

It took a long time to climb out of that pit of despair, but I still struggle with feelings of low self-esteem and self-doubt. I still feel the tide of depression lapping against the far shores of my consciousness and have to work consciously to keep it at bay. I still struggle to see any value or worth in what I do. The struggle against depression is a personal battle that people must fight every single day, and even though I have not suffered from depression for many years, that sharp edge is still there, that little voice of self-doubt is never entirely still.

So I get Ruth Davidson, in that respect at least.  When you suffer from these feelings, being a public figure is terrifying.  You can’t hide. I imagine that she suffered from similar experiences, that she still has that wee voice in her head. So I empathise with Ruth’s experience, and I am glad that she spoke about it in public, because by doing so she has made it a little bit easier for others who are experiencing similar issues to speak out and reach for help.

The lesson I learned from that painful early experience wasn’t a lesson just about me and about my need to change my own life, to empower myself. It was also a lesson in empathy. It taught me that there is something below the surface with any individual, that they may have struggles and difficulties that they strive to hide. It taught me that you should always empathise with those who are struggling because it could so easily have been you. It taught me that you must refrain from rushing to judgement when you see a person making what on the surface may seem to be poor life choices, because you don’t know what is driving them to it.

But my experience taught me something else. It taught me that depression and mental health issues are often the product of external events, and that’s where I take issue with Ruth. She has a pull yourself up by your own bootstraps approach to depression. It might have worked for her, but she can’t assume that it’s going to work for everyone, and she can’t overlook the role that wider society has to play in the creation of individual issues of mental health.

Just as you can’t overlook how societal expectations about – say – women’s bodies or the social role of men drive many young people into the depths of despair, Ruth can’t overlook how the actions of her own government have driven so many hundreds of thousands of people to depression and desperation, and beyond. To me at least, she appears to suffer from a stark lack of empathy for the victims of Conservative policies, for the women victimised by the rape clause, for the disabled people whose mobility and life chances are severely curtailed by UK government cuts, for the hundreds of thousands of students starting adult life saddled by debt, the families living in poverty for whom getting food on the table is an everyday triumph, for all those who struggle in low paid work who will never be able to enjoy a secure home of their own, for the elderly woman left standing in the rain at the bus stop because public transport is deprived of investment.

The real lesson that my experience of depression taught me wasn’t just that I had to make changes within myself in order to recover, it’s that we also need to make changes to society. No one exists as an island. It’s not enough just to change yourself, you have to change the world too. I am an agent in making myself better, but I have to be an agent in making society better as well.

It’s all very well for a politician to speak in a soft soap interview about their early struggles with mental health issues, but when that same politician represents a party which is taking an axe to mental health services in England, there are serious questions to ask which were not asked. When that party is squeezing the Scottish budget and threatening service provision in Scotland, there are serious questions to ask which were not asked.

It’s all very well for a politician to speak in public about personal issues, but there are serious questions to ask of a media which colludes in avoiding asking that same politician about some other important issues surrounding her party, issues about Dark Money, issues about homophobia, sectarianism, racism or misogyny amongst politicians who are theoretically answerable to her. Politicians who by espousing these attitudes are creating depression and low self esteem in others.

That’s what upsets people about Ruth Davidson. She is the politician as a personality, and not the politician as a proponent of policy or principle. What upsets people is when she appears on what is supposed to be an incisive political programme, and Andrew Marr acts like Dr Phil. If we want to tackle issues of mental health, we need to change society. A media which allows politicians to act like media personalities from a baking show and shields them from hard questions only makes that harder to achieve.

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54 comments on “Depression is not just a personal struggle

  1. Interesting the means by which we can overcome these issues – I had regular bouts of depression and in social events was often swamped by crippling shyness, then along came Paula and I found a way through the fog.

    • deelsdugs says:

      Great post Paul.
      Aye the fog… Mine descends and engulfs with any extended family matters. Two older sisters, I’m supposed to ‘do as I’m told’ and not have any opinion, so life is much easier if there’s no contact. It’s also very difficult as our elderly mum cannot see past them. They have no empathy for their younger sibling.
      Very difficult.

  2. Sheryl Hepworth says:

    Well said Paul. I hope, over my life, I have been able to help and befriend folks who needed a shoulder and a friend. A lot of my friends in earlier years were gay (of both sexes) and they were and, in a couple of cases, still are dear, close friends. I think the problem folks are having in empathising with RD is that she has played on her sexuality for her own advantage on the political stage and, as you said, still holds to the Tory way of degrading others in less advantageous situations than herself. THAT is what people are having a problem with, the fact she is being two faced.

  3. Weechid says:

    “She has a pull yourself up by your own bootstraps approach to depression. It might have worked for her, but she can’t assume that it’s going to work for everyone, and she can’t overlook the role that wider society has to play in the creation of individual issues of mental health.”

    It didn’t work for her ot if it did she didn’t have clinical depression. She may have had reactive depression which is totally different.

    Clinical depression involves a chemical imbalance in the brain and you cannot just “will yourself” out of it – any more than you can will the regrowth of a missing limb. To suggest people can “pull themselves together and throw away their medication shows total ignorance on her part and it is a very dangerous thing to suggest. I have know people with serious mental health issues who have done this – with disastrous results.

    I’ve no doubt she could have had re-active depression – I think most of us do at some point in our lives (let’s face it, teenage years are shit for many of us) – but it obviously hasn’t left her with any feeling of empathy for others suffering the same condition, or worse and to use this as a “poor wee me” card when she should be answering important and difficult political questions shows just how low she wil go.

    I’ll reserve my sympathies for those whose lives her party has destroyed.

    • scandoonyeah says:

      Couldn’t agree more………..I have no empathy, sympathy or goodwill towards Ruth Davidson. She is a flawed individual with an inflated smile which she thinks can mask her true self and uses that smile as a defense mechanism. When she is put under pressure you can see the internal rage bubbling to the surface as her lips curl and her body stiffens. It is her internal rage that is her driving force and she cares about no one but herself.
      Her opportunist nature fits her like her proverbial tank and is very symbolic…..
      She knows she is a fraud and is protected but what happens to her when the protection ceases?

      And to top it all…. she has a book to sell?

    • Bill Hunter says:

      Do judge Ruth’s politics, but don’t judge Ruth! You have not the foggiest idea of how she has suffered and how she still suffers.

      • scandoonyeah says:

        please don’t project your own suffering into the persona of Ruth Davidson as everyone is different in the way they deal with their own emotional and psychological pain. She uses politics to validate her sense of self which gives her personal and political power. You cannot separate the politician from the person and the person from their politics. Ruth Davidson certainly doesn’t and it is that that leaves an odious smell of opportunism that repels many people

      • WeeChid says:

        I’m not judging her – I’m stating a medical fact. You cannot cure CLINICAL depression by “pulling yourself together and getting on with it”. I do, however, take issue with her suggesting that this is possible and that ditching medication is something anyone should consider.

  4. Gavin C Barrie says:

    Sorry,but I don’t believe a word Ruth Davidson says.

    I have no professional nor practical experience of mental health issues, and persons with such problems have my sympathy and support.

    I don’t believe a word Ruth Davidson says.

    • Kenzie says:

      If Ruth Davidson had indeed suffered from any form of mental illness she would NEVER have been considered for acceptance to HM Forces, not even the TA. Never. Ever, Would not have happened.

      She wouldn’t be telling porkies just to get the sympathy vote, would she? Tories don’t do that, do they?

  5. Macart says:

    Not a thing to add. Well said.

  6. Les Bremner says:

    Paul, that was very powerful. I admire your ability to talk so fluently about your feelings and your past experiences.

    Please try not to, as you put it, struggle to see any value or worth in what you do. There is much worth in what you do. You are the glue which holds much of the grassroots of the Independence movement together.

    • Marconatrix says:

      May I second that, we know your value WGD, even if you may sometimes doubt it. Still, better that I suppose than all the egotists we have in politics 😉

  7. wildaboutphotographyblog says:

    Wonderful post Paul. Ruth has yet to show any kind of empathy for EU citizens like myself, whose rights her party have not had the decency to guarantee after nearly 800 days. In fact, she is now a Brexiteer, despite campaigning against it. Whilst I sympathise with anyone who has suffered from poor mental health, I would like to see Ruth Davidson showing some understanding of what being unsure of your status in the country you have lived in for 30 years does to your mental health.

  8. Clydebuilt says:

    Wonderful piece of writing.

    Was RD’s admission of mental health problems a cynical response to The First minister admitting to have been bullied at school.

  9. Marconatrix says:

    Thank you, WGD, much food for thought here.

  10. paul mccormack says:


    Its for society as a whole to treat and care and rehabilitate people with mental illness.

    Politics will need to seriously financially address the chronic lack of provision of supported accommodation for psychiatric patients who cant be discharged because they are effectively homeless and hence are literally living for years in a psychiatric hospital setting.

    I have every faith in Jeanne freeman’s ability to apportion funding according to need, but the trouble is there’s just not enough to go round.

    My daughter has been resident in Gartnavel for 5+ years now and only now is she well enough to live in supported accommodation, but can’t as there are no spaces available. She is not alone. There are hundreds of others in her situation.

    Why is that Ruth?

  11. Hi, Paul, and thanks for your interesting article: ‘Depression is not just a personal struggle’. I’m one of your regular followers and I’ve been comfortably happy while reading your pieces and thinking that your voice is a good example of what really needs to be said – and long overdue! If I may quote you: “I am an agent in making myself better, but I have to be an agent in making society better as well”… I couldn’t improve on these words!

    While it is impossible for me to fully understand the wide range of challenges that you’ve had to encounter and deal with, I do appreciate how alien some of your past must have been – They were disappeared, whisked off somewhere to be “looked after”. This world is very gradually changing… perhaps, as more and more people truly recognise what empathy really means, our world will become more worthwhile? Let’s hope that won’t take too long!

    Many thanks,


  12. I suppose in many ways those of us who suffered due to outside pressures are the ones who can find a way out – many who’s illnesses are part of their nature have a far greater burden.

    • weegingerdug says:

      Everyone’s experience of depression is unique. I think what I experienced when I was younger was reactive depression. It was a sane response to an insane set of circumstances. That’s a lot easier to deal with than clinical depression. I was able to change my circumstances, and by doing so my depression lifted. Clinical depression is a lot more intractable and deeper rooted.

      When my late partner Andy was in the advanced stages of dementia, the carer nurse asked me if I was depressed. I told him that of course I was depressed. I was watching the man I loved fade away and die before my eyes. But that depression I felt then was a healthy depression. If I hadn’t been depressed in those circumstances that would have been a sign that there was something seriously wrong, that I had no empathy.

      • astytaylor says:

        We really, really need empathy in life, in society, in everything.
        The Conservative party largely lack this quality.
        Thank you, Paul, this is a wonderful piece of writing. One of your very best, in my opinion.

      • Danny Martin says:

        That was a sensitive post. I was an RMN before I retired and had some experience of dementia and its affect on carers. It is sometimes described as bereavement without death. Most of the time the best I could do was to listen, just be there for relatives to sound off to. One husband was so distressed at his wife’s deterioration that he couldn’t face her. Privately, with me, he was able to show his feelings and emotions. To others he came across as detached and cold. Believe me he was anything but. I don’t know if this is the case with Ruth Davidson, but I can’t help but feel that someone in a position of influence would want to display a bit more empathy. I guess that being a Tory means never having to say you’re sorry …

  13. Daisy Walker says:

    I lived through depression and chronic fatigue for years, mornings were a particular hell for me…. I don’t think I was every really out of depression, only the depth varied.

    Tried everything I could to ‘pull myself up by my bootstraps’, as there was a lot of mixed messages about some of the anti-depressant drugs at the time.

    Therapies, diet, exercise, St John’s Wart, yoga.

    Then, about 30 years on, due to a separate illness, I was diagnosed with chronic low Vitamin D.

    It took 3 months of taking really strong supplements – and in that time there was no change (at all) until the last week – when it was like a light coming on.

    Since then no chronic fatigue, no depression. I keep taking the Vit D of course. And in that time, some pretty major slings and arrows of life, including a major bereavement.

    There is a web site, Why Scots Need Vitamin D – written by Doctors and its worth a look.

    I also suggest, it is something worth getting checked out for by your GP. If you are seriously low on Vit D – it will take that 3 months of ‘no change’, but if you know about that in advance, then your more likely to persevere.

    One benefit, prior to the Vit D diagnosis, I did the Mindfulness Courses. I now physically know the difference between a really bad week and the chemical imbalance of full on depression. And it has given me a toolbox of life skills I never had before that I find very useful and life enhancing.

    I realise the above won’t work for everybody, but if it can assist just some, then I hope it does. Vitamin D, such a simple wee thing, but it has changed my life completely. Who’d have thunk it.

    Best wishes to all.

    • WeeChid says:

      One of the reasons many of us suffer from SAD. I spent 5 years working in a museum with low light. Didn’t get much time to get out into the daylight. After I gave the job up I went walking in the sunshine on a regular basis and felt much better. I was hoping the glorious weather of the early summer would have built up my reserves for this winter but may have to consider supplements. I can already feel the carb cravings starting.

  14. Bill Hunter says:

    Thanks for this, Paul. Due to physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse in childhood, and then then again for a time in mid-adolescence, by my mother, I have struggled with depression, self-hatred, and feelings of despair throughout my life. I only realised when I was having psychotherapy that I had been depressed as a child.

    As I look back, I recall that as early as the age of 5 I noticed good looking men, and not beautiful women. In first year of secondary school, it was handsome boys I felt my eyes and budding sexual feelings attracted to. The other boys noticed it, thought I tried to hide it. They used to call me a poof, and say that I sat to pee. I was constantly covered with feelings of shame.

    I suppressed my same sex attraction, and I married on the basis of friendship, and not any erotic attraction. My poor wife sensed that I was not sexually attracted to her, and she also noticed that I noticed beautiful men and not women. This caused her to doubt herself. “Is there something wrong with me”, she would ask herself. But we both suppressed the knowledge that I was a homosexual. She too, however, suffered from depression and eventually turned to alcohol for solace.

    After 40 years of marriage, which had many happy and positive aspects, and during which I had no liaisons with men, through psychotherapy we were finally honest with ourselves and each other. was emotionally traumatic, and we separated and then divorced.

    I deal with feelings of guilt and shame because of what I did to my wife by marrying her. Through therapy I know how to deal with those feelings, and I do deal with them, but from time time, such as as this moment writing this, they arise.

    I’m using an alias in writing this because I’m not “out”, and still have difficulty accepting my homosexuality. The feelings of shame sometimes return.

    So I empathise with you, Paul, and with Ruth. I have difficulty understanding how Ruth can be a Tory. Even so, I wish her well in her partnership and in motherhood!

  15. Illy says:

    A lot of how you described your early experiences resonates *hard* with me.

    I’m transgender, and I was at school in the 90’s. Similar shit (thinking “I’m a freak” is all too easy), and it actually gives me hope hearing how bad things were for you, because it shows how quickly attitudes can change. I might not feel scared to talk openly about this in person by the time I die.

    I’m only coming out of my denial and fear now, in my 30’s. But I think the worst thing about my personal experiences is that I *would* have been able to talk to my parents about this, but was too scared by society to do so.

    So yes, society has a hell of a lot to answer for.

  16. How sad that the beauty of what we are has been hidden from ourselves and from others.

  17. Toby Goodwin says:

    Very powerful post. Thank you!
    Love and hugs to you.

    The shift in attitudes over the last 50 years is almost incredible. We must never forget how far we’ve come, and never back slide.

  18. Electric blue says:

    A brilliant article and really interesting comments. Food for thought. Thank you to everyone for being so honest.

  19. Iain McCord says:

    Hate to say it but I caught myself before I started trawling the net for clear pictures of Davidson’s arms just to check for the marks she say’s she’s left on them.

    It’s a bad day when you can’t trust a known liar to tell the truth about something so serious.

  20. Iain says:

    Who knows? Davidson’s story may even be true.

    • Robert Harrison says:

      If it is fact that’s worse as she’s standing by letting more people suffer from depression unaided because her England masters are cutting budgets which health services need to offer mental health sufferers aid as without help many depression suffers could commit suicide.

  21. Craig P says:

    Good article as ever Paul.

    Mental illness can often not be apparent but nobody could say Ruth didn’t suffer on the narcissistic spectrum.

  22. Robert Harrison says:

    Ruth Davidson is the 1 conservative that passes me of the most as she got a Scottish education which is better than the garbage I got i being raised in England and she got help for her depression yet she’s badmouth the services and hating on the very nation that seems to have been good to her at least she got help sure it might not have worked at frist but at least they did try to help I lost my father at 15 years old and I went into a bad depression and in England I got no help whatsoever 0 zilch nothing In the frist few months I was grieving I was constantly called an evil sadistic and cruel monster I just lost my father and yet I was constantly labeled as evil by the English around me because I was angry at he was gone I punched walls even putting holes in them (thats how I know how weak English built interior walls are compared to the walls built up here which are like concrete by compare) I was lashing out like that with 0 help for 14 years straight it was only when I moved back here in 2015 I actually got any help hence how my autism was also spotted.

  23. susan says:

    I never knew all this when I first knew you Paul, I just thought you were a remarkably kind, intelligent, easygoing guy. So glad you and Andy made a success of it and here’s hoping for further joy.

    As for me well I’ve struggled with depression or something all my life and all I hope for now is peace…and Independence.

  24. Andy Anderson says:

    I have sympathies for Ruthie and her past troubles.

    However I wonder how much her announcement has to do with Nicola mentioning issues a few days before. I think she is a liar, thick and a danger to Scottish freedom. The fact she was ill in the past has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with her behaviour now. She just wants publicity.

    • Robert Harrison says:

      Exactly it’s her actions that’s evil not that she’s come out as a depression sufferer it’s the fact shed stand by and let others suffer what she went through by doing nothing to stop the conservatives in England enforcing benefit sanctions left right and centre which causes depression then cut the very services that could help those who suffer from depression that’s what makes me sick about all this.

  25. Robert Graham says:

    I dont believe one word that comes out of her ever open Gub ,Ruthless will use anything to be noticed , just like the Tory MSPs at Holyrood thumping the desk tops just making a noise .

    o/t anyone seen or heard anyone from the SNP on any news channel recently , christ even Kezia was having a wee spot on the BBC this morning and just had to after prompting by the BBC nodding head it was no, Indyref2 as usual all without any challenge .

    Have the SNP been blacklisted or as in the North sea when NRB was shorthand for not required back , is this a new tactic a total news blackout maybe they will go away if they are not mentioned .

    • Clydebuilt says:

      Don’t remember the last time I heard an SNP person on Drive Time between 5 and 6pm . . . (Peak audience). . . . . Then there’s the nightly attack times . . . . About 5.20 and again at 5.40pm . . . .

      These days it’s more common for the BBC’s propagandist to give the version of the SNP statement that they want the audience to hear

  26. I don’t understand her thinking in these latest interviews. Why would she think the people of Scotland want her for First Minister, when she doesn’t think she’s mentally fit to be Prime Minister?

    • Kenzie says:

      Ruth? Thinking? two words not often seen together when discussing Rape Clause Ruth. Can anyone give me an example of where and when she demonstrated an ability for original thought?

  27. Jan Cowan says:

    My very close friend died recently so I now know what it’s like to suffer from depression. However I’m assured that in time things will improve.

    But this latest piece of writing by you Paul – I think it’s one of your best.

  28. astytaylor says:

    Ach, look on the bright side folks. I’ll be back in Scotland in October, after 15 years of exile in Canada.
    Let’s get on with this independence thing.
    King Asty. (from a long line)
    *Time to get the band together again. You know who you are lads, and lasses…

  29. Petra says:

    Brilliant Paul and thanks for sharing. Yes you’ve clearly suffered but have been rewarded with the priceless gift of “empathy.” Something that money and celebrity can’t buy.

  30. […] Fellow Bloggers writing about Depression: Opinionated Man on Harsh Reality: Depression Wee Ginger Dug: Depression is not only a personal struggle […]

  31. rsfahrudeen says:

    Yes thank you! Everyone forgets that a lot of times when people are damaged, there is some one or something that has done the damaging. It’s not just about hurt people getting better, it’s about stopping people from doing the damage in the first place.

  32. Stephen says:

    Hi there, I’ve just nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger Award. You can find your nomination here:

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