Former minister quit politics over mental health struggles

Marco Biagi was diagnosed with major depression in 2002 and tried to take his own life.

Brave: Marco Biagi's candid tweets
Brave: Marco Biagi's candid tweets

A former Scottish Government minister has revealed he quit politics for mental health reasons.

Marco Biagi, stepped down from Holyrood in 2016 and then told First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney he was leaving for “health reasons” but did not go into detail.

Mr Biagi said he had “binged on food” and “drank alone”, adding: “One night at home I vomited while passed out and may well have avoided choking on it by the luck of having fallen on my side rather than my back.”

In a candid series of tweets on World Mental Health Day on Thursday, he revealed he had been diagnosed with major depression in 2002 and had tried to take his own life that Christmas.

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He said he was “suicidal on many occasions throughout 2002 and 2003” and was held by the police for a night in July 2003 “because I was suspected of being a risk to myself”.

Mr Biagi’s mental health improved and he was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2011.

He recalled: “My spirits had never been higher. It seemed like the ultimate disproving of all the things I had thought those years before when I was sure nothing would ever get better.”

But the routines that previously helped him were “disrupted” by his new life at Holyrood.

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He said: “Listening to evidence of child neglect in an Education Committee inquiry, for example, was harrowing. It took a toll. I began to lapse into old patterns.

“I always kept my suit jacket on and wore coloured shirts because I didn’t want anyone seeing my arms. I binged on food. I drank alone.

“One night at home I vomited while passed out and may well have avoided choking on it by the luck of having fallen on my side rather than my back.”

The former MSP, who began a PhD in political sciences at Yale University in 2016, said he had “never known exactly how much this was all an open secret around Holyrood”.

He added: “My mental health was the real reason I stepped down. I thought I owed the people I represented more than I could deliver. I owed my colleagues more too.

“In private I told the FM and DFM that I was stepping down for health reasons, but didn’t go into detail. Would you? I’m sorry for not being more candid in public at the time.”

He added: “I felt people could now talk about this, where we can accept that serious ill-health is something that can affect us all.

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“I went from as low as you can go to accomplishing things that, in my bed that morning in Ninewells Hospital, I never dreamed I’d be able to do.

“Sure, others have done more and still others would do different things. But this has been a life worth living. All lives are.”

His tweets prompted a sympathetic response from former SNP colleagues and others at Holyrood.

Mr Swinney told the former MSP: “Didn’t think I could have more respect for you than than I did before, but I do now. Take care.”

Meanwhile, Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said his story was “so powerful”.

She told Mr Biagi: “You have achieved so much in and out of politics. But tonight alone you’ve undoubtedly given hope and strength to many.”

Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “This is really powerful and courageous. Best wishes to you, Marco.”


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