The mental health of many has taken a heavy hit during the pandemic, and local spaces such as Hampstead Heath and Waterlow Park have taken on even greater importance.
Gospel Oak’s Alastair Campbell and Fiona Millar are just two of those locally who have come to rely on the Heath and Parliament Hill Lido for space to breathe, and to find relief in what’s around us.
The government’s former communications director and the education campaigner took part in a wide-ranging discussion as part of the event, Ham&High: Our Community’s Mental Health, on May 21.
They told this newspaper’s editor Andre Langlois of the pressing need for “changing mindsets” in government and society about how we help people with mental health problems – but also how we support the people around them.
“I do find that talking about mental health and now campaigning on it and writing about it, I find that it really helps me. I think it’s one of the reasons I’m in better shape,” Alastair said.
“I don’t feel I have to hide anything. I can be very, very open about how I feel, and I think I’m much more conscious of the damage that my moods can do to myself and to other people.
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“I want people who do get depression to understand that lots of people get it, and there’s lots of things that we can do to try and help ourselves.”
Fiona, who has long supported Alastair through his depression, talked of the need to widen the focus of support to the people around those with mental illness.
This way, she said, a cyclical network can help family members and friends – “effectively carers” – to provide support to their loved ones, but also to receive support themselves so they can manage day-to-day.
Fiona said: “People don’t want to tell their friends very often because their friends will say ‘well why don’t you leave him or her? If it’s making you miserable don’t put up with it.’
“I’ve been in that situation too, and I think the more openness and understanding of what it is to live with it the better.
“Partners and family members also need support. I think there isn’t enough of that around at the moment in the way that there would be for the partners and family members of people suffering from other kinds of conditions.”
Buy Living Better: How I Learned to Survive Depression by Alastair Campbell via John Murray Press.