One in four people in the UK will suffer from mental health problems at some point in their lives. However despite this, mental health continues to be a taboo topic with the problems that people experience, surrounded by stigma, creating obstacles to treatment and an exacerbation of symptoms via isolation and hopelessness about change.
In a first for British parliament two serving MPs have spoken openly of how they suffer with mental health issues with the explicit hope of changing people’s outdated views on mental health.
Conservative MP Charles Walker describes how he lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and vividly described himself as a “practicing fruitcake” and Labour MP Kevan Jones said “he’d thought very long and hard” about whether to talk publicly about his illness and went onto say “In 1996 I suffered from quite a deep depression related to work issues and other things going on in my life at that moment,” ……..Like a lot of men, you try and deal with it yourself. You don’t talk to people. I just hope you realise, Mr Speaker, what I’m saying is very difficult right now.”
Mr Jones went onto say how important he felt it was to talk about the issue of mental health in parliament and how mental health has traditionally been regarded as something to be hidden and how that had to change “we are… in politics designed to admit that somehow if you admit fault or frailty you are going to be looked upon in a disparaging way, in terms of both the electorate and your peers as well” The MP for Durham North said he “didn’t know” if this would affect his career or how people viewed him “I actually don’t care now because if it helps other people who have suffered from depression in the past – good.”
MP for Broxbourne Charles Walker said “On occasions it is manageable and, on occasions, it becomes quite difficult. It takes you to some quite dark places. I operate by the rule of four. So I have to do everything in evens. I have to wash my hands four times. I have to go in and out of a room four times. My wife and children often say I resemble an extra from Riverdance as I bounce in and out of a room.”
Both MPs have been widely praised for speaking out and their comments have been described as “historic” by leading charities. Campaign Director at Time for Change, a leading mental health anti stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, said “This will go down in the history books as we have never before seen our political leaders and Parliamentarians feel able to discuss their mental health problems openly without fear of discrimination. We want people from all walks of life to be able to do the same and it’s great to see politicians making a stand.”
The chief executive of mental health charity SANE, said the debate was an “an important milestone on the journey to remove the stigma and misunderstanding that surrounds mental illness”.
Mr Burstow told MPs his department is ploughing millions of pounds into helping people with mental health problems.