Society welcomes MPs' new openness about their own mental health problems

Dr Carole Allan, the outgoing President of the British Psychology Society, has welcomed yesterday’s Commons debate on mental health because it will help to raise public awareness of the importance of mental well-being and of the problems poor mental health can cause.

She says: 

“The debate will be most remembered for the insightful contributions by MPs who have talked very movingly of their own mental health history. Certainly amongst those who listened to the speeches, they seem to have struck a chord of appreciation that at last mental well-being is something that touches people through all walks of life and therefore must be more widely understood. Our Society, in partnership with other organisations will continue to work to help improve attitudes to mental health and wellbeing.”

Kevan Jones (Durham North, Labour) said: “In 1996, I suffered quite a deep depression related to work and other things going on in my life. This is the first time I have spoken about this. Indeed, some people in my family do not know about what I am going to talk about today. …

“We have to talk about mental health issues in this place, including people in the House who have personal experience of it. As I have said, I thought long and hard last night about doing this and I did not come to a decision until I put my notes down just now. Whether it affects 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. 

Politics is a rough old game, and I have no problem with that. Indeed, I am, perhaps, one of the roughest at times, but having to admit that you need help sometimes is not a sign of weakness.”

Charles Walker (Broxbourne, Conservative) spoke of his own obsessive compulsive disorder: “I am delighted to say that I have been a practising fruitcake for 31 years.”  At times he made the condition sound almost comic:

“I operate to the rule of four, so I have to do everything in evens. I have to wash my hands four times and I have to go in and out of a room four times. My wife and children often say I resemble an extra from ‘Riverdance’ as I bounce in and out of a room, switching lights off four times. Woe betide me if I switch off a light five times because then I have to do it another three times. Counting becomes very important.” 

But he also brought out the sadness of it:

“I was on holiday recently and I took a beautiful photograph of my son carrying a fishing rod—hon. Members may know that I love fishing. There was my beautiful son carrying a fishing rod, I was glowing with pride and then the voice started, “If you don’t get rid of that photograph, your child will die.” You fight those voices for a couple or three hours and you know that you really should not give into them because they should not be there and it ain’t going to happen, but in the end, you are ain’t going to risk your child, so one gives into the voices and then feels pretty miserable about life.”

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes, Conservative) spoke about her experience of postnatal depression:

“Many other Members and people who are following today’s debate will know exactly what it is like to genuinely to feel that your family would be better off without you, and to experience the paralysis that can accompany severe depression.”

She said her experience had made her more sympathetic as a doctor and as an MP.