First the positive. It is great to see a public figure like Ruth Davidson talking so openly about her own mental health problems.
As reported in the Times:
When Davidson was 17 and at university, a boy from her home village committed suicide. “I went into a total tailspin,” she writes. “I started hurting myself: punching walls, cutting my stomach and arms with blades or broken glass, drinking far, far too much and becoming belligerent and angry, pushing people away. I was punishing myself and hating myself for it at the same time.” At 18 she was diagnosed with clinical depression, but her medication gave her “desperate, dark, terrible dreams” where she “couldn’t tell what was real”.
“I started having suicidal thoughts,” she admits.
By her second year at university she “became so afraid of sleep that I spent a whole term living nocturnally”. Depression, she says, “was like a smothering black blanket over my head, cutting out the sky. It was heavy, constricting, suffocating. It took away hope and energy and life.”
The fact that Ruth Davidson could conquer such a low period of mental well-being and emerge to be one of the most powerful women in UK politics is truly inspirational.
She recovered by choosing to structure her life in a fashion that works for her. She continues to build her life around the things that keep her happy while trying to avoid situations that may set her wellbeing off kilter.
Even two decades on, Davidson writes: “I am still frightened of going back to the psychological place I once inhabited. When I have periods of heightened anxiety, or I can feel the weight of the black blanket start to descend, I go back to what I know works for me: structure, exercise, forward momentum, measurable outcomes. Sometimes that’s hard in a job that’s 100 miles per hour.”
Davidson now says she thinks she can escape a return to depression. “I don’t think it’s going to happen,” she said. “You can’t predict the future . . . but I am just a different person than I was when I was 18 years old. I just know myself a lot better. If it starts to happen, I have confidence that I’ll be able to do lots of things I just wasn’t equipped to do back then, when it stopped me from being me.”
This is all heartwarming, but on Sunday when I sat watching political commentator after political commentator lauding Ruth as a role model, it was hard to grasp why they weren’t asking the obvious political question. She is meant to be a politician after all, not a celebrity agony aunt.
The glaring question that the revelations beg to be asked is, why does Ruth Davidson revel in her role as the poster girl for a political party that has exacerbated mental health problems by instigating a succession of brutal social policies?
Policies that inflict degrading physical hardship on millions of people. Policies that directly punish those suffering from mental illness and put people in situations where they are more likely to develop them. More importantly, policies which remove from people the agency to be able to make the choices that Ruth was able to make in order to get her life back on track.
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Try turning your life around when you are in the middle of a three-month benefits sanction. Try improving your mental wellbeing when you are living on the streets. Try avoiding those triggers that send you over the edge when you are queueing at the foodbank because you spent your last penny heating your house. Try focusing on the positives when you are physically disabled but your Personal Independence Payments have been stopped without reasonable justification. Try to recuperate when you are an asylum seeker degraded and dehumanised in a detention centre. Try to avoid stressful triggers when you are being forced to relive a rape in order to claim Child Benefits you are entitled to.
Ruth Davidson’s recovery story is a positive one but it should never be forgotten that she is now a key figure in a political party that has been condemned by the United Nations for being in breach of its Human Rights obligations.
A party that has introduced a whole raft of policies which disproportionately impact the most vulnerable. A party of elites who target the poor, the disabled, migrants and the homeless.
Ruth Davidson conquered her demons but the policies of her party make it almost impossible for many others to do the same.