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Politician Ruth Davidson reveals her teenage battle with self-harm and depression

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Anna Brech
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The Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson discusses her “heavy, constricting, suffocating” teen struggle with self-harm and suicidal thoughts, in a frank new interview.

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson has opened up about her teenage battle with depression and suicidal thoughts, as she rules out ever running for Prime Minister.

Davidson, who is expecting her first child with partner Jen Wilson, is hailed as a progressive figure in the Tory party, with her popular standing and no-nonsense approach often sparking leadership speculation. 

But in a candid interview with The Sunday Times today, the politician says she would never consider succeeding Theresa May in taking on the top job in politics.

“You have to want it. And I don’t want to be prime minister,” Davidson says. “I value my relationship and my mental health too much for it. I will not be a candidate.”

“I willed myself better” from suicidal depression, says Ruth Davidson

Davidson suffered a mental breakdown aged 17, just after leaving home to study at university.

“I started hurting myself: punching walls, cutting my stomach and arms with blades or broken glass, drinking far, far too much and becoming belligerent and angry, pushing people away,” she writes, in an extract from her new book, Yes She Can

“I was punishing myself and hating myself for it at the same time.”

The arts student struggled with suicidal thoughts and was diagnosed with clinical depression, something she describes as “like a smothering black blanket over my head, cutting out the sky. It was heavy, constricting, suffocating.”

She eventually found a way out of the battle when she decided “to will myself better” using deliberate goals such as drinking less, exercising and being kind to herself.

The politician still carries scars from those dark years. “It’s quite surprising that I’ve been in the public eye for years and nobody’s ever noticed,” she says. “Or if they have, they’ve never commented. But they’re there for all to see.”

The Scottish Tory leader with the Queen and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon at the opening of Scottish Parliament

A lot has changed in the past 20 years when it comes to how we approach and discuss mental health

And although Davidson hasn’t had a significant depressive episode since 2006, she says there are still moments where “I can feel the weight of the black blanket start to descend”.

She’s also aware her experience may make her vulnerable to suffering postnatal depression after her baby is born. But the difference now, she says, is “I just know myself a lot better”: 

“If it starts to happen I have confidence that I’ll be able to do lots of things I just wasn’t equipped to do back then, when it stopped me from being me.”

Do you suffer from depression? You’re not alone - seek confidential help and support with the NHS or Mind

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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