Mental health debate leads to MPs speaking out about their own disorders
By Liz Lockhart
Yesterday (14.6.12) Parliament debated mental health for the first time in four years. This ‘proper’ mental health debate discussed issues surrounding mental health problems on the main floor of the House of Commons. The debate heard two MPs openly discuss their own struggles with mental health disorders.
The debate was led by Tory backbencher Nicky Morgan who, when referring to the fact that mental health problems affect one in four people, said ‘Imagine if this was a physical health condition and that had not been talked about by the House of Commons other than in adjournment debates for a very long time.’
During the debate, North Durham MP Kevan Jones appeared close to tears as he talked about his own experience of depression. The former defence minister said that politicians and people generally often did not want to admit they suffered from mental health problems for fear of being seen as frail. He added that many colleagues still looked on illnesses such as depression in a disparaging way. In a later newspaper interview Mr. Jones said that he had suffered a breakdown after a build-up of work and personal pressures in 1996 and was away from work for four months. He had sought help and recovered ‘Actually admitting that sometimes you need help is not a sign of weakness’ Mr. Jones said.
Also opening up about personal experience of mental health problems, conservative backbencher Charles Walker described having obsessive compulsive disorder for more than thirty years. He said that this meant that he had to do everything in sets of four, such as turning lights on and off or washing his hands. ‘Woe betide me if I switch off a light five times, then I must do it another three times. Counting becomes very, very important’ said the Broxbourne MP. He also admitted that his illness had taken him to some ‘quite dark places’.
Some important changes have been made as a result of this debate. Paul Burstow, health minister, said that the government would support a private member’s bill by the MP Gavin Barwell which would remove laws which discriminate against people with mental health problems. These changes include removing a ban on ‘mentally disordered persons’ from doing jury service, a bar on people who have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act for more than six months from becoming MPs and the law which allows people to be removed as the director of a company ‘by reason of their mental health’.
‘I believe that we will look back in just a few years time and be amazed that this nonsense was on the statute book in 2012. Beyond the relatively small number of people the bill will directly help, it will send out a clear message that discrimination is wrong,’ said Mr. Barwell who is Tory MP for Croydon Central.