Ruth Davidson speaks of fears over disclosure of mental health history

The former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has said she almost did not run for the position because she feared her history of mental health problems would be exposed.

The life peer was diagnosed with clinical depression in her first year at university and said she was concerned that standing for the role of leader in 2011 would result in her medical history coming out.

She told the Desperately Seeking Wisdom podcast, hosted by Craig Oliver, that she wanted to be able to talk about her mental health on her own terms so she could “own the way in which it was presented”.

Davidson said: “I considered not throwing my hat in the ring for leader in case my medical history … came out.

“I’m trying to remember dates, but I became leader in 2011, so it would be after the press got hold of Gordon Brown’s children’s medical records, which felt like a really egregious breach.

“But the idea that the papers had the power to find out and open up people’s medical records – why wouldn’t somebody want to find that out about the new leader of the Tories in Scotland?”

Davidson said that when she was diagnosed about 20 years ago, people did not talk about mental health issues as much, saying: “It was very shameful. I didn’t want anyone to know.”

During her time in politics, she has worked with the Scottish Association for Mental Health and Davidson said she was pleased that she had had the opportunity to open up about mental health issues. She expressed hope it could help other people to realise it is not career-ending, as she had feared at the time of her diagnosis.

“At that time, I was just starting at uni. I had big dreams, everyone does, but the idea that you could go on and have a big job, that you could be in the public eye, you could be in politics at all, and have this big shameful secret … It didn’t occur to me,” she said. “I thought that that was my ambition over.”

Davidson also spoke about her annoyance at being described as a lesbian kickboxer during the 2011 leadership contest while all the other candidates were referred to by their respective jobs.

“I’ll tell you why it annoyed me,” she told the podcast. “One, because I’d stopped kickboxing years before, so it wasn’t even true. And two because it was so reductive, and it was reductive to try and make a point.”

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