MPs forced to hide mental health problems
Posted Tuesday 15 July 2008
A new report published today by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health, with support from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the mental health charities Mind, Rethink and Stand to Reason, shows that one in five MPs surveyed has experience of a mental health problem but fears disclosing this because of the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health issues.
An anonymous questionnaire completed by 94 MPs, 100 Lords and 151 parliamentary staff has revealed that:
- 27% had personal experience of a mental health problem including 19% of MPs, 17% of Peers, 45% of staff
- 94% had family or friends who have experienced a mental health problem
- 86% of MPs said their job was stressful
- 1 in 3 said work-based stigma and the expectation of a hostile reaction from the media and public prevented them from being open about mental health issues.
The report is critical of the law forcing MPs to give up their seat for life if they are sectioned under the Mental Health Act for six months. By comparison, if an MP is physically incapable of working for six months due to a serious illness they would not be forced to stand down. The majority of MPs who responded thought this rule was discriminatory and urgently needs to be changed.
All three joint chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health, Lynne Jones MP, Tim Loughton MP and Sandra Gidley MP, unanimously agreed that the perception that an MP would damage their career by being open about an experience of mental distress needs to be challenged.
Sandra Gidley MP said: "Greater openness at Westminster about mental health problems would have a significant impact in challenging stigma and discrimination. When the former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik publicly disclosed his experience of depression, it did not affect his popularity. He went on to be re-elected and proved that people who have experienced mental health problems can recover and manage a challenging job."
Despite significant numbers of people working in Parliament experiencing mental distress, over half of MPs did not think they had sufficient understanding of the Disability Discrimination Act to make reasonable adjustments for a staff member with mental health problems and only 17% had received any mental health awareness training.
Mind's Chief Executive Paul Farmer said: "At a time when the Government is appealing to employers to be more understanding about mental health issues as part of its aim to get people off benefits and back into workplace, it seems they should be looking to take action closer to home. Repealing antiquated rules that ban MPs from returning to work after recovering from a mental health problem would send out a clear message to all employers that discrimination should not be tolerated. This is an opportunity for Parliament to lead by example as an exemplary employer in supporting people with mental health problems in the workplace."
Stand to Reason Director Jonathan Naess said: "In a civilised society, people with experience of mental ill-health should not be restricted from being MPs, directors, partners, magistrates and jurors. When we invited Mr Bondevik, the former Norwegian Prime Minister to come to speak to MPs, he was amazed that had he been British he could not have stood for Parliament. As a lawyer, one of the main reasons I founded Stand to Reason last year was my determination to remove from our laws these offensive and stigmatising restrictions. Like Stonewall before us we hope to encourage some brave MPs to come forward to break this last workplace taboo."
Rethink's Chief Executive Paul Jenkins said: "These findings are an affront to democracy. MPs and Peers need to be free to bring their personal experiences to their vital democratic role. Instead they are being gagged by the prejudice, ignorance and fear surrounding mental illness. We look forward to the day when MPs from all political parties with experience of mental illness are able participate fully in our democracy."
President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Dinesh Bhugra said: "We congratulate the All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health for carrying out this project. It confirms that every family in the land is affected by mental health problems and that, sadly, stigma is still widely prevalent. Mental illness comes in many forms across the age span, and is everyone's business. Mental health and physical health cannot be parted. We applaud this effort to start talking more openly about mental illness. MPs occupy a privileged position in the public eye, and greater openness has the potential to lead to a better public understanding of mental health issues. The College looks forward to working with MPs and the Government to reduce stigma and engage policy makers in raising awareness in future."
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health's recommendations include:
- the urgent need to repeal laws that prevent people with experience of mental health problems from standing for Parliament
- a review of laws that force MPs to automatically lose their seat if sectioned under the Mental Health Act for six months
- encourage MPs and Peers to be more open about their experiences of mental health problems and to introduce a protocol that would support individuals to be transparent about dealing with mental health issues in public life
- ensure that MPs, Peers and staff have the opportunity to undertake mental health awareness training
- ensure that the health check offered to MPs includes a discussion with a relevantly trained clinician on mental health issues.
Notes to editors
View a copy of the report Mental Health in Parliament
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health will be launching the report Mental health in Parliament at an event at The Astor Suite, 1 Parliament Street, Houses of Parliament on Wednesday 16 July at 12.30pm. If you would like to attend please contact Neil Balmer on 020 7235 2351 or email email@example.com.
For more information or interviews please contact Alison Kerry in the Mind Media team on T: 020 8522 1743 M: 07850 788514 E: firstname.lastname@example.org ISDN line available: 020 8221 0817.
All Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health aims to enable Members of both Houses of Parliament and other interested groups to become better informed about mental health issues. The Joint Chairs of the group are Lynne Jones MP, Tim Loughton MP and Sandra Gidley MP and the Group Secretary is Baroness Murphy.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is the professional and educational body for psychiatrists in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. www.rcpsych.ac.uk
Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales. We work to create a better life for everyone with experience of mental distress. www.mind.org.uk.
Rethink, the leading national mental health membership charity, works to help everyone affected by severe mental illness recover a better quality of life. We aim to provide hope and empowerment through effective services and support to all those who need us and campaign for change through greater awareness and understanding. For further information visit: www.rethink.org or call 0845 456 0455.
Stand to Reason is a service-user led organisation that intends to work with and for people with mental ill health in the way that Stonewall has for gay people: raising the profile, fighting prejudice, establishing rights and achieving equality. We are committed to fighting discrimination and stigma, challenging stereotypes and changing attitudes. www.standtoreason.org.uk