We have physical health and we have mental health – it’s time we saw them as equal
I felt something today, something quite rare and wonderful. It came as a shock, which makes it all the more pleasant. That is, a feeling of warmth and fondness towards not just one, but a large group of MPs. Not as many as some people had hoped, not by a long shot, but members of parliament gathered in the House of Commons today to discuss something which has, for far too many years, been sidelined, overlooked and if acknowledged at all, treated with a certain level of complacency; mental health.
The Mental Health Debate – the hashtag soon trending all over the UK (again, refreshing to see) – came about at the request of Mr Charles Walker, Sir Peter Bottomley, Jon Cruddas, Mark Durkan, Dr Julian Lewis, Nicky Morgan and James Morris and despite a disappointing and stark lack of bums on benches, what followed filled me with hope that we are finally getting closer to smashing a pretty huge hole in the stigma which surrounds mental illness, be that in the workplace, the home, the doctors surgeries, in prisons, schools and most of all, in ourselves and the way we feel about opening up about this issue that affects so many of us.
I may get chastised for saying this, and I’m not saying that I didn’t wish more MPs made the effort to attend, but there was a silver lining to that half-hearted cloud; every attendee had the chance and the time to speak. What’s more, four speakers took the opportunity to make it personal – they opened up, sometimes spontaneously, and in turn, a run of the mill parliamentary debate morphed into an emotional, touching, heartfelt discussion. Charles Walker MP and Kevan Jones MP both made examples of themselves; saying that men especially should be able to talk about mental illness just as they would any other illness, without shame – they then went on and did this themselves.
They told the house how they were, and are affected by depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. We also heard about Post-natal Depression first hand. These MPs weren’t obliged to do this – I certainly wasn’t expecting them to. I knew there would be anecdotes about constituents’ letters, complaints and meetings. I knew there would be bitten lips and jibes at government cuts to services. I knew there would be passion and feeling, but I honestly thought that all of this would be for show. I did not expect to see hearts on sleeves. That was something special, and something that I feel is a massive step forwards.
Getting mental health talked about at the House of Commons is achievement enough, but getting MPs who truly understand what they are talking about rather than point scoring and sneering at the opposition is what this country really needs. We are, when in comes to mental health, in a dire state of affairs. It has been proven that ATOS interviews, the way they are conducted and the lack of understanding of mental illness surrounding that only make the problem worse. It is proven that most people out of work and suffering with mental illness want to get back into work. Increasing numbers of people in this country are being prescribed with anti-depressants and there are vital services being cut all over the UK. None of this makes it any easier to speak out openly about mental illness; this debate came at a time when we really, really need it. I only hope that people listen and take note.
Finally, massive kudos to those who spoke to raise questions of how we perceive those 1 in 4 of us who will experience mental illness. It does not have to be depressing, woe is me; it does not have to be, and shouldn’t be seen as a problem. We have physical health and we have mental health – the two are equal and any one of us can suffer from either at any time in our lives, the more people realise and acknowledge that very simple fact, the better. Above all, this kind of illness or state of mind does not, ever, make us any less worthy or any weaker. Many who suffer with depression, for example, show great strength of character simply to fight it – whether they manage to recover or not. Our mental state and how it manifests in each of us is part of what makes us interesting, teaches us how to live and love and even gives us an insight into things that others will never have. We need to stop seeing mental illness as a weakness, full stop. We need to see that there is no shame in admitting to ourselves and to others that it exists, and we need to keep running where these MPs left off… spreading awareness and breaking down stigma in all areas of our lives.Tagged in: depression, Dr Julian Lewis, James Morris, Jon Cruddas, Kevan Jones, Mark Durkan, mental health, Mr Charles Walker, Nicky Morgan, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, post-natal depression, Sir Peter Bottomley, The Mental Health Debate
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