Depression, and how to do politics: Ruth Davidson

In an interview for the Sunday Times Magazine, the well-loved leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, revealed her teenage struggle with depression. Here’s why this is so crucial for mental health, and politics.

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A little background first. Ruth Davidson took the job as leader of the Scottish Conservative party in 2011, and since then has gone from strength to strength. The former PM, David Cameron, touted her for a national leadership role in 2015, and it’s easy to see why. She achieved the Conservatives’ best performance in an election in Scotland since 1983, picking up 13 seats.

To put that into perspective even more so, it’s likely that Theresa May would’ve lost her job if it weren’t for these seats. It may even have been the case that the Labour Party would be in power right now. This is an incredible politician.

As described in the report on the interview, Davidson has a demeanour least like that of a politician. The 39-year-old, who is expecting a baby with her partner Jen Wilson, is quite unique. She is revered in Scotland and revered in the whole of the UK perhaps even more so.

That is why her admission of depression as a teenager is so significant. She will be known to many people, including the youth, and her brave words about the issue will have a profound effect on lots of the public.

For those suffering from depression and anxiety, Davidson provides a model, something to aspire towards. Even for those who have no interest in politics or public life, the mere existence of somebody so successful and influential in spite of mental health issues will be a source of hope, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

In particular, her admission that she “threw away [her] pills” and vowed to “never take them again” is powerful. The advice here to sufferers is not to stop listening to doctors, but rather to actively make changes if something isn’t going well. The doctrine of Ruth Davidson is such: you are in control. That in itself empowers people and emboldens them to take big decisions.

Her lack of fear about her scars too sends a very powerful message. This is that, whatever has happened, and whatever will happen, it isn’t too late to change. It gives a certain steeliness to those who have self-harmed and helps them to feel more comfortable with their appearance, to ensure that this doesn’t affect their mental health further.

Davidson has ruled out the idea of becoming PM, on the grounds that she cares about her health too much. This too sends a signal that, with careful oversight of one’s health, any problem is manageable, and no problem is too great.

She makes all the right noises, whilst remaining candid and real. This isn’t a normal situation, but she handles it as though it has happened a hundred times before.

This helps not only mental health sufferers but also those aspiring to politics, and too helps to bridge the divide between politicians and the electorate. Her easy-talking, somewhat profane manner will resonate with people, and help to demystify the oft-detached world of politics.

So while she has ruled out a bid for the top job — which appears to be genuine — Ruth Davidson will continue to be an immensely important politician, who will always hold sway over the electorate, and the many, many people who have heard her comments and resolved to act to better their lives.

This is the impact politics must seek to have. Legislation comes second to how this influence and platform is used. Laws are temporary, but words are permanent.

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