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Wilhelmina Shrimpton: Timing really is everything

Wilhelmina Shrimpton,
Publish Date
Sat, 27 Jan 2024, 9:40AM
Photo / Alan Gibson
Photo / Alan Gibson

Wilhelmina Shrimpton: Timing really is everything

Wilhelmina Shrimpton,
Publish Date
Sat, 27 Jan 2024, 9:40AM

I want to talk about timing, because it really is everything.  

It can be the difference between whether you say or do something, and it can be the difference between whether you don’t.  
It can shape opinion, and it can morph public perception. 

The timing of an announcement or an incident can also dictate how it’s received.  

I think we’ve well and truly seen the importance of timing when it comes to our politicians and their mental health struggles.  

I know that Francesca Rudkin spoke about this on last week’s show following the shoplifting allegations against Golriz Gharahman, but the headline is back in the spotlight after former Labour Minister Kiri Allan opened up about her mental health struggles after allegedly drink-driving and crashing her car last year.  

Like Golriz, she resigned from her role, and like Golriz, she’s due to have her day in court after being charged over the incident.  

In her first interview since the crash Allan says she’d returned to work to deal with a change in Labour’s policies after a ‘mental health break’ … and admits she got to a point where she “decided she wanted to take her life” the night of the incident.  

Now before I continue, I think it’s important to remind everyone that both Golriz Gharahman and Kiri Allan have said that their mental health struggles are not an excuse but an explanation for what happened.  

Even so, they both faced a mound of criticism that mental health had been used to try and manage the PR disasters.  

There are of course a lot of similarities between the former politicians’ stories, and while I applaud them for openly sharing their struggles, I wonder whether the timing of that was what threw many Kiwis.  

Perhaps if they’d laid that bare when they entered politics, or when the first signs of trouble began to emerge, then many may have been more willing to accept the explanation. Or perhaps, by speaking openly about it earlier on, then the incidents may not have even happened and they’d still be sitting in the beehive right now.  

I realise that’s all very well in theory but in practice it seems to have become increasingly obvious that as a government, and also as a society, we haven’t created an environment where people feel comfortable enough to come forward without judgment.  

This was evident in a LinkedIn post I read last week after Golriz’s shoplifting allegations emerged, which stated that people with mental health struggles shouldn't bother getting into politics or positions with a public profile.  

Not only is that discriminatory and completely unfair, it also doesn’t bode well for democracy, swiftly eliminating 31% of Kiwis who in the latest New Zealand Health Survey said they live with moderate to very high levels of psychological distress.  

My fear is that although we’re seeing an increase in conversation and campaigns about mental health, that isn’t translating into an understanding or acceptance of the issue.  

Kiri Allan said in her latest interview that if she looked at how her mental health may have impacted the way she operated, that it was her responsibility to manage that aspect of her life, and that she didn’t do that well.  

She’s right. But there’s also some responsibility on our friends, colleagues and employers too.  

And to bring it back to timing, maybe if we walked the talk we saw in all of those mental health campaigns then it would never be an awkward time to speak out.  

Both Kiri Allan and Golriz Gharahman are now paying the price for their mistakes - as they should.  

Both have valuable lessons to learn. But so do we. 

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