Yousaf hopes ministers’ discussion of mental health will help end stigma

The First Minister said the political environment can sometimes be ‘toxic’.

Humza Yousaf has said he hopes he and other ministers discussing their mental health will help to end stigma around the issue.

The First Minister said the political environment can be “toxic” due to intrusion into private lives and public “character assassinations” – acknowledging he has sometimes played a role in this himself.

Earlier this week, a podcast where Yousaf frankly discussed his past mental health challenges was released.

He said that at one point he was “almost in a state of breakdown” when his first marriage ended while he was transport minister.

On Tuesday evening, his drugs and alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham announced she was stepping down, revealing she is being treated for post-traumatic stress.

Yousaf was asked about the issue as he spoke to journalists at the University of Edinburgh on Wednesday.

He said it had been “really difficult” to lose Whitham as a minister, adding: “I’ve talked to a number of colleagues who feel that it’s a toxic environment in politics at the moment

“I suspect that it’s not just in Scotland, it’s reflected right across the UK, and probably even the world.

“Also, the intrusion into your private life and often the public character assassination that many colleagues can face – I’ve faced it in my time in politics.”

He continued: “I don’t think there’s another job like it.

“Think about First Minister’s Questions, and I’m just as guilty of this as anybody else, but you can often attack each other quite personally.

“I’m not sure there’s any other workplace where you can stand up and hurl insults at each other, and it’s a common part of the job.”

He said he hopes to appoint a new drugs and alcohol policy minister “quickly” and the SNP would support Whitham, who remains an MSP.

Yousaf spoke about the difficulties of life in the public eye
Humza Yousaf spoke about the difficulties of life in the public eye.

The First Minister said he spoke about his mental health to the Rest of Politics podcast to try and remove some of the stigma around the issue.

He added: “To be frank, our political discourse, our media discourse, isn’t conducive to good mental health at all.

“A number of colleagues, be they civil servants or ministers, will often feel the intrusion to the public life, into the private life.

“They’ll feel their character is assassinated, frankly, on a regular basis.”

He said there is a need for scrutiny by everyone in politics and the media should think about “how we can do this better”.

On Wednesday, Whitham posted a message on X, formerly known as Twitter, discussing her decision to step down.

She said: “My decision to leave my ministerial post was not an easy one but a necessary one for my wellbeing.

“Thank you for all the kind messages I have received but it is clear from some of the animus, we still have such a long way to go when it comes to openly talking about mental health.”

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