Churchill and manic depression
The charity Rethink is the largest voluntary provider of mental health support in the UK and conducts many high profile campaigns in a continuing effort to achieve a greater understanding of mental illness.
In March 2006 such a campaign was targeted at the city of Norwich, as explained on the Rethink website:
During March, Rethink is taking the fight against prejudice, ignorance and fear to the streets of Norwich. The campaign will involve ads on buses, bus stops, billboards and on the radio together with a major statue unveiling in the Forum on March 10th. Make sure you put this date in your diary as we need your support on the big day!
Little did they realise just what sort of impact the campaign would have.
The statue mentioned on the website was, as pictured here, one of Winston Churchill in a straitjacket, and on the basis that no publicity is bad publicity, the profile of Rethink was certainly raised several notches.
There was a storm of protest as members of the public took to the airwaves and the press to complain about the great man being portrayed in this fashion and the management of the Forum in Norwich, where the statue was displayed, were persuaded to demand its removal. Even Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames MP toured the TV studios to condemn the offending piece.
I know a bit about Manic Depression since my wife, whom I’ve known for forty years, has suffered from it for the whole of that time and I was incensed that so many people seemed, by their utterances, to have no understanding at all about the condition, of which Churchill was a lifelong sufferer.
I signed a book of comments on the Rethink stand, generally deploring the action of the Forum in bowing to the demand of the vociferous and ill informed, and was encouraged to be told that many people agreed with my position.
On Thursday 23rd March, the following letter appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times under the heading “Belittling image of great war leader”:
Sir, the disgraceful episode of belittling the name of Sir Winston Churchill, our greatest war leader by dressing a statue of him in a straitjacket is unbelievable. The people who thought this up should be ashamed of themselves. Our freedom today is due to his leadership in the last war.
I responded immediately and the next day the following letter appeared:
I’m afraid R.S.Ashford (EADT Letters 23 March) and others, including Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames, have completely missed the point in their uninformed and knee jerk reaction to the statue of Churchill in a straitjacket.
Churchill was not a superman or a demi-god, as many like to portray him. He was just a flesh and blood man, albeit an exceptional one, and one of the things that made him exceptional was the mental illness from which he suffered. He was a lifelong manic depressive, one of the most common forms of mental illness and one which, to listen to so many, is still completely misunderstood.
The manic phase of the illness has stimulated the extraordinary creativity of so many famous people from Van Gogh to Spike Milligan and there can be no doubt that the inspirational speeches and their unique delivery that did so much to inspire the country in it’s darkest hour owe almost everything to this aspect of Churchill’s illness.
The statue is a tribute to the fact that Churchill was able to do so much while suffering from a mental illness and that it didn’t put him in a strait jacket, and shouldn’t put anyone else in one either.
While agreeing with R.S. Ashford that our freedom today owes much to Churchill’s leadership, that freedom also includes the right to shock the "Disgusted of Aldeburgh" tendency .
Sometimes I think if Churchill were around today he’d wonder why he bothered.
In truth, I am saddened that mental health appears to be an area of which a large majority of the population have little or no understanding and, seemingly, little desire to change that sorry state of affairs. If you would like to show that Humanists have a rather more enlightened outlook on life please make the pledge to Stamp Out Stigma by going to the Rethink website.