More than a quarter of parliamentary staff surveyed, including MPs, Lords and support staff, suffer from mental illness brought about by stress according to an article published in The Independent today.
A MIND press release further breaks down the figures revealing that
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.
- dlade at Flickr
So in effect, they are no different from any of us really. Except arguably they have a more stressful job that draws them into the limelight.
Both the article and the report though, highlight the additional stigma that exists regarding mental illness in the sense that even policy makers are not able to admit to it openly for fear of harming their careers.
Currently the Mental Health Act (1983) bars an MP from re-election if they are admitted to hospital under compulsion – and MIND highlights the discrepancy between the treatment of a someone who has recovered from a physical illness with someone who has recovered from a mental illness by stating that
… 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.
Without wanting to be too harsh, there does seem to be something a little ironic about MPs calling for the law to be changed.. especially as a new amended Mental Health Bill has not long passed through their hands.
The Independent quotes one unnamed MP who insisted on anonymity as saying
“I would love as an established MP to talk openly of the serious depressive illness I endured long before I became or even thought of being a MP.
“It might serve as some small encouragement to those few young people currently shrouded in despair, feeling their life is hopeless. I have no confidence though that national or, importantly, local media will not succumb to the temptation in their coverage to make life more difficult for my party.”
I would also love you to, anonymous!
It should be something that absolutely works in a positive way to lead the way for others who are experiencing difficulties or seeing the difficulties that family members are experiencing to show what is achievable and the potential to increase public understanding and awareness could be immense.
Concern about career is a major obstacle to a wider openness about mental illness and any widespread attempts to further batten down the stigma that is so often associated with it.
Of course, this comes as no great surprise. The figures suggest though, that a lot more people suffer from mental illness than are able to speak about it – which indicates the excessive levels of stigma that exist. It seems to be something like the proverbial elephant in the room that no-one wants to talk about.
I certainly don’t exclude members of my own profession either. A good friend of mine – also a social worker – was suffering from depression (and quite severe) and tried to insist her doctor signed her off with ‘stress-related’ unspecified illnesses because she was terrified that it would forever mark her career.
Figures suggest almost everyone is affected, if not personally, then a family member, close friend. I would wager a bet those journalists in the national and local papers that the MPs are concerned about are affected and certainly the constituents that vote for them, everyone.
It just needs a few more to be open and of course, who is in a better position to change discriminatory laws than the MPs themselves!