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  1. ITV Report

Mental illness, like cancer, is not a lifestyle choice

Alastair Campbell: For me, depression feels like being dead Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Alastair Campbell is an ambassador for Time To Change and the author of 'The Happy Depressive: In Pursuit of Personal and Political Happiness'.

Stephen Fry hit the nail on the head when he said that people are liable to think 'why would someone like him be so depressed that he would want to kill himself?'

He's so popular and famous and wealthy and he has such a fabulously interesting life making TV programmes and writing books. That should be enough shouldn't it?

But you wouldn't ask why someone got cancer or diabetes or asthma like it was their fault. You wouldn't say: 'What have you got to get cancerous about?'

Those 'nothing to get depressed about' people don't undertand that it's an illness. Some people get mentally ill and some don't - just as with a physical illness.

If you're coughing up blood, break your leg or have a raging temperature, it is obvious what you have to do. But if you suddenly have these overwhelming feelings of nothingness, deadness and sadness, who do you speak to?

Stephen Fry spoke about presenting QI and thinking 'I wish I was f*****g dead'. Sometimes it does get that bad, but most people continue to function. Sometimes the pressure to keep functioning is too much.

Stephen Fry, who has bipolar disorder, recently revealed he had attempted suicide in an interview Credit: ITAR-TASS/Photas/Tass/Press Association Images

The funny thing about depression is that when I'm not depressed I find it really hard to describe what it's like. Some say it's like a fog, others like their body is full of lead. For me, it feels like being dead: You're conscious of breathing, smelling and you see people walking about, but to all intents and purposes you're completely dead inside.

You wouldn't ask why someone got cancer or diabetes or asthma like it was their fault. You wouldn't say: 'What have you got to get cancerous about?'

I have never regretted being open about my mental health problems. In a way, I've had no choice: I was a high-flying journalist in Fleet Street and I had a very public breakdown. People thought I had crashed and burned. I thought I'd never work again.

Luckily, I was given my old job back at the Mirror. A lot of people who have similar experiences work their way back into the world over time, but I definitely benefitted by being completely open with people.

When I returned to work, there was a lot of humour about it but I've never felt anything but absolute support from the public. They are much more understanding than the media can be.

I have not been depressed for a while but when I start to feel bad I talk to my partner Fiona. I have good friends I speak to and I've got a guy I see who I trust. I resisted taking medication for a long time - I always hated it and still do - but if he recommends something for a while then I will take it.

I also find that exercise is really important, as well as trying to keep looking outwards: Learn new things, read.

Things are improving and one day we'll look back and wonder: Did we really have people who thought that depression was a lifestyle choice. That if you have schizophrenia you were likely to be violent. And that if you had a bout of mental illness in your past, you must under no circumstances put it down on your CV.

Alastair Campbell is is an ambassador for Time To Change. His views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.

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