June 29, 2021

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Safety & Health Podcast

Alastair Campbell on workplace mental ill-health

In episode 12 of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from former 10 Downing Street Director of Communications, Alastair Campbell, about the stigma around mental health in the workplace and tips for employers and those suffering with mental ill health. Also, we have a candid interview about suffering from burnout.

Safety & Health PodcastAlastair Campbell is one of the UK’s foremost mental health campaigners, and an ambassador for several mental health charities, including Mind, the official charity partner of Workplace Wellbeing Show.

Alastair recently spoke openly to Safety & Health Expo and Workplace Wellbeing Show Event Manager, Charlotte Geoghagen about his struggles with depression. He also addressed wellbeing in the workplace, giving his thoughts on how leaders and colleagues can best support others going through similar experiences to his.

The full version of this interview was streamed as part of the Workplace Wellbeing Show virtual conference in June.

Scroll to the bottom of the page to listen to the episode in full.

The episode starts with Alastair giving his thoughts on the best way for leaders and managers to support people who have been through, or are currently going through, a particularly difficult period of mental illness…

“Don’t define people by illness, don’t define them by the worst that happens, define them by the best that you think they are. Sometimes, you’ve got a situation where someone can’t function, they can’t do their job because they’re not well. We know we have to deal with that, but deal with it sympathetically.”

Advice on supporting colleagues

Alastair Campbell

Alastair Campbell

“The way I see this right now now, is there are three big places where you can help each other. Government obviously must be there to provide services and money etc. Families and individuals can do an awful lot for themselves and for each other. But I think employers have got as important the role as either of these two. I think employers are fundamental to the change in attitudes, and that’s happening.”

Common stigmas

“Depression isn’t an illness is a choice. You hear people all the time say, ‘what’s he got to be depressed about?’ You never hear people say, ‘what’s he got to be asthmatic about?’. You don’t hear people say, ‘you’ve got a nice house, you shouldn’t have cancer. You’ve got lovely kids, what have you got to be cancerous about?’ But, with mental health, we’ve still got that.

“There is also this assumption that people can’t be mentally ill, and still be useful at doing stuff. I think some of the best work I’ve ever done is when I’ve been depressed of have been coming out of a depression.”

Words of advice

The chat ends with Alastair offering some words of advice on how uses his ‘jam jar’ to look after his depression and how one of his coping methods is, curiosity. “One of my little rules, is never go to bed without knowing something you didn’t know when you woke up.”

Scroll to the bottom of this page to hear the clips in full and learn in more detail about Alastair’s jam jar.

Employers are fundamental to the change in attitudes, and that’s happening.


In the second part of the episode, we hand over to Heather Beach from the Healthy Work Company, for an interview with Vicki Simmonds, based on recent personal experience with burnout.

Two months into a new job, the pandemic hit, and Vicki’s life took a turn for the worst. Locked down alone, far from her support network of friends & family. Around the same time, she lost a close friend to COVID and two ex-colleagues who died by suicide. Vicki continued to work at full capacity, but it became too much.

Despite usually dealing well with stress, Vicki started to experience psychosis symptoms, hallucinations, panic attacks, suicidal dreams, among other mental & physical reactions. She sought medical advice and has been signed off work to give her time to recover. In the interview you’re about to hear, she shares her experience and outlines the outstanding support she’s had from colleagues, highlighting what workplaces can do to best support anyone in a similar position.

Vicki tells Heather how she felt ‘embarrassed’ about becoming ill at such an early stage in her new role but said that her employers have been ‘absolutely incredible’.

“Coming to terms with this has been really difficult for me and I’m still partially in denial. When something like this happens to you, at the start, it’s just a thought in your own head, you’re in complete denial. But, when you start to tell people, and say it allowed, it becomes reality.

“People tend to start asking questions, because they genuinely care about your wellbeing and your process of recovery. If I hadn’t told anyone, I’d still be suffering in silence now. Once I did, that changed everything.”

Scroll to the bottom of this page to listen to this interview in full.

If you’d like to hear more from Heather on the topic of Burnout, she talks about what makes us susceptible to burnout, in episode 2 of the Safety & Health Podcast.

Safety & Health Podcast

Subscribe and tune in the Safety & Health Podcast to discover the latest issues facing the health and safety profession, and stay on-top of the developments affecting your role, from working at height, lone working and common workplace hazards, to safety culture, behaviours, occupational health and mental health and wellbeing.

Last time out, we focused on the SHP Awards and heard from four winners, SHP’s Rising Star UK and Rising Stars in construction and manufacturing and SHP’s Trailblazer in Positive Social Impact. Hear some interesting and innovative safety ideas from the construction and manufacturing sectors and learn how the perceived negative of struggles with mental ill-heath, can be turned into a positive.

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