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SNP leader shares ‘state of breakdown’ struggles over his divorce

SNP leader Humza Yousaf has told how he was almost in a “state of breakdown” when his first marriage ended and he turned to professional help.

The first minister said a “lack of boundaries” between work and his personal life contributed to his divorce to SNP activist Gail Lythgoe, with whom he split in 2016.

Mr Yousaf said he never “spoke to Nicola [Sturgeon] or any of my colleagues”, and that stigma “100%” existed around men talking about their mental health struggles at the time.

The senior SNP figure said he feared if he opened up to colleagues about the breakdown that it would impact on his career – but described seeking professional help as “the best thing I ever did”.

Scotland’s first minister told the Rest is Politics podcast: “For a whole 24 hours I did not move – didn’t get up to drink water, didn’t get up to go to the toilet, didn’t eat anything.”

On the turmoil of 2016, Mr Yousaf said: “I remember the day that I knew I needed help. I was transport minister, my first marriage had broken down … I remember actually just a whole day passing where I literally did not move from the right-hand side of my settee.”

“I remember almost being in a state of breakdown, crying and upset and not really understanding what I was upset at. But then at that point, 24 hours later, knowing I needed help,” he said.

Humza Yousaf took over from Nicola Sturgeon in 2023 (AFP/Getty)
Humza Yousaf took over from Nicola Sturgeon in 2023 (AFP/Getty)

Mr Yousaf added: “I actually thought if they knew about it I’ll not be in a job. Now, I don’t think that would have been the case and Nicola would have been perfectly understanding … But you didn’t hear about ministers with mental health challenges. If they had mental health challenges, they left the job.”

Mr Yousaf was married to SNP activist Gail Lythgoe from 2010 to 2016. He remarried in 2019 to Nadia El-Nakla, and said he is now “really strict” with boundaries and ringfences Monday evenings to spend time with his daughter Amal, and stepdaughter Maya.

He also told podcast hosts Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart that he had a conversation with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at the Cop28 about life-work issues – advising him to “draw your boundaries early on” around family life.

He also revealed that he felt “sad” and “worried” about his predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon, amid an ongoing police investigation into party finances and criticism over the deletion of Covid-era WhatsApp messages.

He said: “I’ll always have that deep affection for Nicola. I worry about her to an extent as well. She’s dealing with a lot, as we know, and I found it really sad about the certain elements who are seeking to try to tarnish her reputation.”

Asked if her marriage to the party’s chief executive Peter Murrell was a “recipe waiting to go wrong”, he said: “In hindsight, you could absolutely reflect on that. I think nobody really questioned it because we didn’t see any red flags.”

Mr Yousaf also shared the “hurt and regret” he feels at the breakdown of his relationship with the SNP’s former leader Alex Salmond – crediting the former first minister as the reason he joined the party.

He said: “I feel, if I’m honest with you, the breakdown in the relationship with Alex is a matter of not just regret, but I feel quite hurt about it all and how it has all transpired.”

The SNP boss said someone he admired “now spends a fair bit of his time laying the boot into the SNP and trying to damage me”, adding: “It feels difficult to think that [his motivations] are anything other than to try and replace the SNP which is never going to happen.”