20 July 2013

Politicians Defying Stigma around the World (and an ecumenical surprise)

While listening public radio Thursday morning, I heard a fairly interesting segment on BBC Newshour. The segment began by describing an announcement from the campaign of Chilean presidential candidate Pablo Longueira that he would withdraw from the upcoming national election due to a depressive episode that began shortly after his primary election victory.

From personal experience, I know the decision to openly disclose a psychiatric diagnosis can be extremely difficult, and I've never lived in the political spotlight. I've read about candidates deciding to disclose their diagnosis in state and local political races, often to preempt the scandel of being “outed” by an opponent. Even so, national elections bring much greater attention. While I know nothing of Mr. Longueira's background or political platform—beyond the BBC's description of him him as a “conservative” candidate—I admire his willingness to be open about his condition.

I was also quite impressed by the BBC's sensitive coverage of this story. However, the segment didn't end with the news story. Instead, the piece went on to further explore the issue of depression in politics through a phone interview with former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, explaining that he made international news in 1998—during his first of two terms as prime minister—when he took a leave of absence to recover from an episode of depression.

That took a couple minutes to sink in. A politician… not just a politician, but a head of state(!) openly announced that he was suffering from depression, took time off to recover, and it didn't end his political career. I was definitely curious to know more about this man.

Long frustrated with spelling in my native language, I know better than to guess at spelling anything in others. Instead, I grabbed the audio for the program from the Newshour podcast to get his dates in office and headed to Wikipedia's “List of heads of government of Norway.”

I've developed a non-linear approach to reading Wikipedia in order to get a feel for the quality of the article before jumping in. I skim the introduction to be sure I've found what I was looking for, then jump to the references section to evaluate the sources If the sources are few in number and/or poorly documented, I proceed with caution. Time permitting, I'll mark unsourced statements and related problems. Sometimes, with a topic I'm particularly interested in, I'll locate information sources and fix broken links.

The article about the former Norwegian prime minister turns out to be one of these. My curiosity only increased when I read the first line of the introduction.

Kjell Magne Bondevik ([çɛlː mɑŋnə bunːəviːk]; born 3 September 1947) is a Norwegian Lutheran minister and politician…

A Norwegian what and politician??!

But the reference section was in sad shape. However, with the correct spelling of ‘Bondevik’ I could find other sources—both to satisfy my own interests and add references to the world's most popular wiki.

Back to my “ecumenical surprise”: sure enough, the bio-blurb at the beginning of a December 2011 interview in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization confirms it. Because of my interest in the connections between faith and mental health, it's always a treat to discover a clergy-person who is open about living with a psychiatric diagnosis, but to find one who is such a public figure… wow!

Linked references

BBC News. Chile Presidential Candidate Resigns. July 17, 2013.

BBC World Service. Newshour, 18/07/2013 (1300 GMT). Newshour. London, UK, July 18, 2013.

Dvorak, Petula. Doug Duncan’s Vocal Dealings with Depression Serve as Inspiration. The Washington Post, November 29, 2012.

Jones, Ben, and Kjell Magne Bondevik. Fighting Stigma with Openness. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 89, no. 12 (December 2011): 862–863. doi:10.2471/BLT.11.041211.

Self-Disclosure and Its Impact on Individuals Who Receive Mental Health Services. Monograph. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, September 2008.

Sexton, Scott. ‘I Finally Knew What the Problem Was,’ Prosecutor Says. Winston-Salem Journal, March 6, 2012.

Wikipedia. Kjell Magne Bondevik.

Wikipedia. List of heads of government of Norway.