Yet mental health problems remain less talked about than any common physical complaint.
Among our elected representatives, fear of being denigrated and disparaged has ensured that very few politicians have ever admitted to having mental health problems. Many mental health campaigners believe that if more public figures spoke up about their own experiences of mental illness or the experiences of their loved ones, then the stigma and shame many feel about conditions like depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and illnesses like anorexia, stress and anxiety problems, would start to disappear.
Despite the silence, attitudes are changing. Today, speaking exclusively to the Sunday Herald, Holyrood MSP Fiona McLeod gives her first-ever interview about living with depression for 30 years.
At the same time, fellow MSP Dennis Robertson, who lost his daughter, Caroline, last year following complications arising from anorexia, calls for better, more pro-active mental health support for bereaved families and individuals. They are not alone. Earlier this month, in a remarkable House of Commons debate, a former Labour minister and three Conservative MPs spoke openly about their own mental health problems.
Former defence minister Kevan Jones broke years of silence and revealed he'd had deep depression in 1996. It was a difficult admission to make as a politician, he said, but he found sympathy and support on all sides of the house. He was followed by Conservative MPs Andrea Leadsom and Dr Sarah Wollaston who discussed the misery they experienced due to postnatal depression and then Conservative MP Charles Walker, who explained how having obsessive compulsive disorder for 31 years meant he had to do everything, such as switching off lights and washing his hands, in sets of four.
By talking frankly and openly, these politicians have shown that mental illness need not be a bar to success even in a high-profile and demanding job, but all are united in stressing the importance of proper support.
That is why Fiona McLeod and Dennis Robertson are backing Know Where To Go, a campaign by the mental health charity Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), to help ensure that people with mental health problems, and their families and friends, get the right help when they need it. One million Scots have no idea where to get help, according to a survey by the SAMH, and one-quarter of people who have mental health problems wait more than a year to get help after developing symptoms.
As all the MPs and MSPs agree, however, talking about it is the best place to start.
DENNIS ROBERTSON'S STORY
Since the death of his 18-year-old daughter last year due to complications arising from anorexia, the MSP Dennis Robertson has tirelessly campaigned to improve treatment for people with eating disorders.
Yet he has revealed how he and his family felt "a sense of abandonment" after her death, and is calling for more support from family doctors for bereaved people.
The SNP MSP for Aberdeenshire West held a members' debate about eating disorders in February. He spoke movingly at the time about how his family had "two Carolines", one a loving, articulate daughter, and the other a girl with anorexia who would isolate herself from company.
Caroline, one of twin girls, died on February 25, 2011, following internal bleeding. Yet in the months following her death, Robertson felt that he, his wife Anne and Caroline's twin sister, Fiona were given little support as a family.
He said: "It's a sense of abandonment. My wife and I were talking about it, not long ago, and saying 'does anyone actually really care now about what happened, how it happened?' And we were thinking 'no-one's actually picked up the phone to say 'are you ok?'."
Backing SAMH's Know Where To Go campaign, he said that even though he and his wife had been working in the social care sector for over 30 years and knew where to go for help, it would have benefited them to have been pro-actively encouraged to talk to someone outside their family group. He said: "I think we probably went into this spiral of supporting each other and feeding off each other, without perhaps really recognising what we really needed was to go outwith our own family, and speak to someone."
He believes that GPs or practice nurses should as a matter of course contact bereaved people, to see if they need support.
He said: "I do feel extremely sorry for our GPs at times because they always seem to be in the frontline.
"But I think the GP, maybe a month after the bereavement, and maybe six months down the line as well, should pick up the phone and say 'I'm just giving you a courtesy call, is everybody OK?', really just to see if there are any symptoms there, thinking about the family's mental health, such as if your sleeping patterns are all to pot or you're becoming short-tempered.
"I don't think that's a big ask and it doesn't even incur a cost. I think it would make a big difference, I really do."
Robertson, who is Holyrood's first blind MSP, said that campaigning to improve services for people with eating disorders and their families, was "probably a good therapy" for him.
He said: "It helps me to reflect and work through it.
"It's making me focus on where we're going and what we can do. We've organised meetings with the Health Minister and we've brought in clinicians, all the things that probably weren't happening before. So that's been good."
The Scottish charity Sedig, the Scottish Eating Disorder Interest Group, was going from strength to strength, Robertson said.
However, he added: "Caroline's legacy is a living legacy, which is wonderful, but at the end of the day, you would rather have your daughter. It hurts, it's still very painful."
fiona mcLeod'S STORY
EVEN though it has been 30 years since she was first diagnosed with depression, many people who know Fiona McLeod don't realise she has been living with mental health problems.
People tend not to suspect. "Confident", "capable", "can-do": these words come up again and again as the MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden describes how others see her, and indeed how she sees herself. She is all those things, and she also happens to be living with depression.
McLeod asks to be interviewed in the Garden Lobby of the Scottish Parliament, surrounded by tables full of MSPs, researchers and visitors. It is a surprisingly rowdy atmosphere. Politics, by definition, is no environment for shrinking violets, and McLeod, 54, certainly isn't that. Once, in her 20s, she was asked by a psychiatrist to sum herself up in three words. The SNP politician responded that she was "a nationalist, a feminist and a socialist". She didn't like the psychiatrist and has never seen one since, but she has stuck to the pithy definition of herself.
Warm, impassioned and direct, McLeod says that when well, she is "a militant person with mental ill-health" and is giving this interview in support of the 10% of the population who have depression at any one time. "When you are in the depths of depression, you can do nothing for anybody or yourself. When I'm well, I feel it's my job to do something for all the folk who can't."
When she was first diagnosed, in her mid-20s, it came as a shock. No-one, including her GP, picked up on the signs.
"I had no idea I had mental health problems, even though when I looked back I had obviously had depression on a number of occasions, especially round my finals," she notes. "I felt sick all the time for months so they thought maybe I had an ulcer. It was a case of 'this is Fiona, Fiona's successful and confident'."
Things came unexpectedly to a head one day when McLeod was at work, as a school librarian. In the middle of a busy corridor, she burst into tears for no apparent reason. "I happened to be outside the nurse's room and went in. She said 'You're not a well woman. Go home'."
Was there a trigger, such as a personal trauma? No, she doesn't think so; she believes her illness is due to a chemical imbalance in her brain. On that first occasion, she was treated with medication, which was "fantastic". Since then, she has experienced two further episodes of depression during which she has used medication and a range of other therapeutic strategies. "The major one that stands out is 1990, after my dad died in 1989. That was terrible," she says. On that occasion, she was supported by a psychiatric nurse, but while in "the depths of despair" she also had to look after her mother, who had a health condition, a responsibility that unexpectedly helped by giving her a different focus.
Not that it was easy. She knows well the sense of hopelessness that comes with severe depression. "The feeling of dread when you wake up in the morning is the most awful, awful feeling," she says. "As soon as you open your eyes, you know it's still here and you don't want to cope with it, but I had to."
Then she discovered her own novel therapy, namely cleaning her house – with a toothbrush. "A toothbrush is very useful for cleaning a cooker," she says, laughing at the memory. "The psychiatric nurse then latched on to it and said 'This is how you're going to get better. Every week, you're going to clean a room.'
"That taught me there are things you can do beyond drugs, although I'm not of the persuasion that you should stop people's drugs."
Soon afterwards, she gave birth to her son and for nearly 20 years, the depression "wasn't bad", she says. "And then I hit the menopause. Again, it was episodes that just come from nowhere, like you suddenly find you're sitting in tears."
AT that point, 2007, she was prescribed a new drug by her new GP, which seemed like a good idea but wasn't.
"That was the scariest thing that's ever happened in my life," says McLeod emphatically. "I was convinced I was falling off the planet, after just one tablet. I was hanging on to the bed."
She quickly came off it and focused on other techniques. "I got through it with yoga, T'ai Chi and my dog. There's huge evidence that having a companion animal is good for your mental wellbeing."
Former Labour defence minister Kevan Jones noted during the recent Commons debate on mental health that politicians fear admitting to mental ill-health in case it is used against them, but McLeod has no complaints. She has never experienced stigma as a result – quite the reverse.
McLeod is a member of the health committee and numerous cross-party groups, including on dementia and carers, but the stress of elections and parliamentary life have had no adverse effect on her mental health, something she puts down to the fact she loves her job.
She believes it is important to have people seen to be functioning at a high level while living with mental ill-health, and applauds Jones and the other MPs who spoke out. Above all, she wants to help publicise SAMH's campaign and the support services available for people with mental health problems. Knowing where to go is important for family and friends too, she says, and for the only time during our interview has to pause to collect herself. It must have been so hard at times for people around her, McLeod says. Her son and her husband, Andrew Rankine, the retired head of safety and wellbeing at Glasgow University, have been a constant support.
Getting timely help is crucial, she concludes. "A person with depression isn't a miserable, pathetic, pessimistic person, but sometimes their brain chemistry stops them from being able to contribute. It's a kind of death. It just stops you, you're not there. Nobody should be left to flounder, because it's a very, very dark place.
"Depression doesn't have to be the end of the world, but it can be the end of your life. And that's why this campaign is so important."