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Presidential Blog

Running and role models

19 April 2017 | by Peter Kinderman

Our President is part of the team that has produced the television series Mind Over Marathon.

Yesterday’s news of a snap General Election took us all by surprise. The next few weeks will be a maelstrom of activity as MP’s ‘wash up’ legislation and prepare their manifestos.

For the British Psychological Society, we’ll talk to colleagues and draw up a plan for our advice to both politicians and voters as to what psychologically informed manifestos might look like (and I’ll say more next week).

For now, perhaps the most important piece of advice is that already posted by Psychologists for Social Change: “register to vote!”.

I heard the news of the election while attending a screening of a documentary to be broadcast tomorrow (20 April) and featuring Prince William, among many others.

As has been widely reported, the programme links to a wider – and welcome – campaign by the Princes to show leadership in this area.

The media – like our politicians – reflect as well as shape public attitudes, and are unlikely therefore to be perfect. But it’s vital to engage.

Our politicians can be execrable. When confronted by a one of his constituents demanding justice for childhood abuse, Eric Pickles replied “just, just, adjust your medication”.

But our politicians can also be role models. In 1998, the Norwegian prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, announced that he was stepping away from his post, saying that he was depressed. For three weeks, his deputy took over, until Bondevik returned.

In an unrelated twist, Bondevik’s government lost a motion of ‘no confidence’ in 2000 and left power for about 18 months.

Bondevik, however, led his party in the next general election, and returned to power, as prime minister, to lead a successful coalition government.

It’s worth repeating that. After discussing his depression openly, and after relinquishing the role of prime minister as a consequence, Bondevik won a general election and returned with a more secure public mandate.

We need role models in our shared campaign for greater openness, awareness and humanity in mental health. And so we look, at least in part, to the media for leadership.

The Sun (not a widely loved publication in Liverpool) seems to regard it as acceptable to use "psycho killer" as a headline.

But our media can also be outstanding. Mind over Marathon follows 10 people who have experienced, and who are prepared to discuss, significant challenges to their mental health and psychological wellbeing, and who have set themselves the goal of running the London Marathon. Their stories are moving, and in different ways, the challenge is significant.

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the team making the programme, and (although I’ve clearly got a vested interest) I think it’s a great watch.

I appreciate the efforts taken by the production team to reflect the reality of the runners’ experiences, but also to use respectful and inclusive language. If we’ve got it right (and I was part of the team), we’ll have captured the challenging reality of mental health problems, and how they impact on everyday life.

If we’ve done our jobs well – and I’ve seen the first programme - we’ll also have illustrated how it really is a case of 'only us'; how the protection and promotion of psychological wellbeing is a matter for everyone, not just one in four of us.

In any event, I’d strongly recommend watching the first programme tomorrow. And don't worry: I’m never seen on-screen.

Next week… an election special !

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