Last week I began to write a blogpost about an allegation that the Prime Minister was alleged to be taking powerful anti depressants. The story had appeared on a blog run by John Ward. In the end I didn't run it as it was impossible to stand up. However, since then it's become the talk of Westminster.

Matthew Norman wrote about it in yesterday's Independent and Guido Fawkes has given the full details on his blog. Even lefty John Harris is speculating about the Prime Minister's state of mind on Comment is Free. And he's not the first. Behind the scenes in Westminster it is a regular topic of conversation. Labour MPs discuss it, along with the rest of us.

This particular story's provenance seems to be a single source in or close to Downing Street who didn't quite realise the extraordinary consequences of what he was saying about the Prime Minister's new dietary requirements.

So where does it go from here? I am afraid this one is down to our friends in the lobby. As Guido says at the end of his blogpost...

In the context of all this speculation and his manifest physical unease, surely somebody in the Lobby has to publicly ask the question at the PM’s next monthly briefing: “Prime Minister, have you been taking medication that may affect your judgement?”

I doubt there will be any takers.

If the story has any element of truth in it, Brown wouldn't be the first Prime Minister to suffer from medical or psychological problems while in office, as you will discover if you read David Owen's book IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH, which details the medical conditions of political leaders over the last hundred years.

Laurie Penny, who writes the Penny Red blog, has written a piece on this on Liberal Conspiracy. She is completely unworried by the possibility of the PM taking anti-depressants...


We have no way of substantiating this rumour, but let’s for a moment run with the assumption that Brown is taking anti-depressants.

My response? Good. Great. If the Prime Minister of Britain is suffering from depression or some other mental health condition, which given the stresses of his current position seems highly likely, then I’m glad he’s getting treatment for it. I’m glad he’s man enough to admit that he might need help.

Anti-depressants are used by millions of people in this country, although the stigma attached means that many of us don’t talk about it, and in almost all cases barring those of people detained against their will in institutions, the process is both voluntary and helpful. It takes courage to go to the doctor and say that you have a problem, even if you’re not a leading political figure who’s constantly in the public eye.

I only wish more politicians would follow his example – after all, it’s not as if mental health difficulties in government are unheard of.

Some of the greatest leaders the Western world has ever seen had serious mental health difficulties. Winston Churchill was plagued by crippling depression, which he referred to as ‘black dog’ and treated with that much less effective anti-depressant, booze.

Lincoln was also chronically depressed and anxious. The Time To Change campaign has hilighted these examples, along with other famous figures who had mental health difficulties, such as Florence Nightingale and Charles Darwin.

Last year, a Mind investigation found that large numbers of politicians and staff were forced to hide mental health problems, with 19% of MPs, 17% of Peers and 45% of staff reporting personal experience of mental health difficulties. And in 2001, the Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik outed himself as a person with depression, and was subsequently elected for a second term.

So is the ‘Prime Mentalist’, as he has become known, a person who has mental health problems? It certainly seems likely . Would that fact, by definition, make him unfit to lead the country? Absolutely not.

It's a well argued point of view, certainly, even if some of the assertions made are questionable. Leaving Gordon Brown as an individual out of this, is it really possible to do the job of Prime Minister if you're suffering from chronic depression? Laurie argues that if Churchill could, anyone can. But the demands of the job nowadays are so 24-7 that you have to be at the top of your game the whole time. Having said that I know of a Cabinet Minister in the not too distant past who was plagued by bouts of depression. He was in a very senior job and offered to resign. But the Prime Minister of the day was totally supportive, knew all about his condition and encouraged him to continue. He did just that. Alastair Campbell was in a very high pressure job and coped. Just.

I have several friends who suffer from depression from time to time. Life is often lived on the edge. They just don't know when the black dog is going to strike. If our Prime Minister is indeed suffering in this way he deserves our compassion, not insults.