Ken Livingstone has come out with some extraordinary comments today about depression.
He was appointed to the Labour defence review, which caused much comment – including comments made by Kevan Jones, MP for Durham North.
In response to these particular comments Mr Livingstone said ‘I think he might need psychiatric help. He’s obviously very depressed and disturbed. He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.’
On LBC he was pushed to apologise, but apparently refused, because ‘He was rude about me, I was rude back to him, he needs to get over it’ and said he wouldn’t have said what he said had he known that Mr Jones had had depression.
The problem is, the comments he made were bad enough – ridiculing someone’s mental health as a response to political criticism is appalling. However, the comment that he wouldn’t have said it had he known Mr Jones had had depression feels even worse to me.
Initially, it appeared to be a personal jab at someone who had upset him. Cruel and unkind – but personal. It turns out however, that Mr Livingstone seems to think that having depression is something to ridicule. It was a statement, not targeting Mr Jones personal history, rather sending the message to all those that have depression to stay silent. That due to their illness they have no place making comment or joining debate.
The implication, by his own reasoning, is that he thinks that those with depression are disturbed and not of value in the public forum. They should seek medical help (which, incidentally, is not all that easy to get for such conditions) and shut up.
It hurts, because it is cruel, ignorant and by his own admission, generalised not just to bring down one political opponent, but to comment on all those who really should just go off to their GP and keep their heads down to prevent their disturbed ideas spilling out into the public forum.
These comments are what keep people silent and afraid. These are the comments that ensure that people don’t seek help until often it is too late. This is the stigma that makes having a mental health problem scary, because on top of living with the war raging in your head, you have to deal with the ignorance of people who really should know better.
(This is no comment on his politics… Just his insensitive and unhelpful comments on mental health!)
Mr Livingstone has now issued an apology for his comments on twitter. It has been encouraging to see such a sharp and fast response to entirely unacceptable remarks.