We’re not frightened anymore
Posted Friday 15 June 2012
MPs capped off yesterday’s monumental mental health debate by agreeing on a motion: that this house has considered the matter of mental health.
You could see it as a classic example of the slightly odd, outmoded things that they do in Parliament, which rarely make sense to the rest of us. But yesterday’s debate was a thoroughly modern affair – giving us a glimpse of a better future as well.
Why? For the very first time, MPs stood up and spoke out on record, about having mental health problems themselves.
Of course, this really shouldn’t be a big deal.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t raise an eyebrow about Kevan Jones MP's depression, or Charles Walker MP’s obsessive compulsive disorder. We shouldn’t be remotely surprised that Sarah Woollaston MP and Andrea Leadsom MP experienced postnatal depression.
But as everybody knows, we still live in a world where we’re often afraid to say we’ve got a mental health problem. We’re afraid that colleagues might whisper behind our backs, or that we won’t stand a chance of getting promoted. We sometimes worry that friends will stop calling, or even that our own families will see us differently.
Mind has been fighting against mental health stigma for decades now, and thousands of you have joined us in that fight. I’ve often noticed that when one person talks about their experience of mental health, sure enough others will follow - it’s a very common occurrence. Yesterday this common occurrence took place in a most uncommon place.
MPs have been far slower to take up the fight, fearing media headlines and a very public backlash. But yesterday, four of them took a chance. It almost felt that each one who spoke emboldened another to do the same.
First, Kevan Jones opened up about the deep depression he had in the 90s. He told MPs that he had thought “very long and hard” about whether to speak publicly. In the end he concluded:
Whether it will affect how people view me, I do not know; and frankly I do not care because if it helps other people who have depression or who have suffered from it in the past, then, good.
Next Charles Walker declared himself “a practicing fruitcake for 31 years”, describing the way that OCD can “smack you right in the face” and has at times taken him to some very dark places. He too had been terrified to admit to having a mental health problem, but he stood up and told the house: I am not frightened anymore.
Shortly afterwards, Dr Sarah Woollaston spoke about the severe panic attacks she had experienced. Andrea Leadsom admitted:
I suffered from post-natal depression. It is unbelievable how awful you feel when you are sitting with your tiny baby in your arms and your baby cries and so do you. You cannot even make yourself a cup of tea. You just feel so utterly useless.
I commend all four MPs for speaking out yesterday, and I commend the celebrities, sport stars, and members of the public who have done the same thing.
It means we’re a step closer to a world where we can ask for help when we need it, where we don’t need to pretend we’re fine, and where we don't need to struggle on in silence.
The debate covered many other issues too, ranging from welfare to cuts, and MPs highlighted the excellent work done by local organisations.
The momentum around this debate should inspire us all to keep fighting. Whether or not your MP was involved, why not drop them a line to let them know what needs to happen next.
Paul Farmer is Mind's Chief Executive
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