I was doing a few things at home today when I was rung by a journalist asking me to comment on the announcement by Western Australian Premier, Geoff Gallop, that he was resigning from the position due to the health impacts of depression.
Because I’ve spoken about having depression myself a few times over the years (see this speech at a mental health conference a couple of years ago for an example), I occasionally get this type of media call, asking me things like whether being in politics can generate or exacerbate depression, and whether it is harder to cope with politics when you have depression.
In some ways, it’s almost impossible to answer such questions, because I don’t know what it’s like to be anyone other than me, so I don’t know how things affect other people. However, there are a few comments worth making.
Firstly, depression affects people in many different ways. Sometimes it is triggered by a specific event or series of events, and sometimes it is basically intrinsic to a person. It has varying degrees of severity, different ways of manifesting itself, and different people can handle it in different ways. It is therefore a bit dangerous to make too many broad assertions about it.
Secondly, politics can be stressful, but it can also be energising. I could think of many other jobs that are more stressful and much less well recompensed. The personal focus of some of the criticism and the very public nature of some of that criticism can be psychologically bruising, especially if you are in a leadership position. However, you also don’t want a bunch of politicians completely immune to criticism and disconnected from humanity.
Thirdly it is very important that the perception that people with depression can’t cope with stressful situations as well as others is continually debunked. Everyone can have difficulty coping with certain circumstances, and that will vary from person to person, but there is no reason as a matter of course why people with depression can’t handle pressure situations as well as others.
I often point to John Curtin, often called Australia’s greatest Prime Minister, as someone who showed that a person can perform extremely well despite having depression. In fact, I often ponder whether the depression was actually one of the factors in him doing the job so well. His genuine empathy for what the Australian people were going through, and especially those he was sending off to war, no doubt contributed to his own personal suffering (and probably his early death), but it may also have meant his decisions were more considered, with the human consequences, rather than just the political consequences, given more emphasis than might otherwise have occurred.
Back to Geoff Gallop – I don’t know him at all so I can’t really comment on his situation, beyond noting the obvious that when you’re in a leadership position, there’s not much place to hide if you are struggling, and sheltering yourself too much will make it harder to do the job well. If anything, it’s a good indication that he’s someone who took the responsibilities of his job very seriously, genuinely and personally, rather than just seeing it as holding on to power for its own sake. Clearly he wanted to be able to do the job of Premier well, rather than just occupy the position and rely on public relations spin to get him through. I wouldn’t make the same assessment about some politicians in the federal arena.
ELSEWHERE: Geoff Gallop’s resignation has drawn commentary on a lot of blogs. A sample of some of them follows:
The Muriels, The Daily Magnet, Suburban Scrawl, The Currency Lad, Larvatus Prodeo (some good reader comments too), Duckpond, Imagining Australia, Major Anya, The Daily Flute, Missi Torquceres, Joanne Jacobs, and Stoush.net. Also, a post on Ambit Gambit that touches on some of the wider issues sparked by this story.