Yesterday was World Mental Health Day – and politicians met at an event in the Houses of Parliament to discuss mental health issues at work and to support an end to discrimination and stigma.
This is a critical, life-savingly important issue for people all around the UK who, right now, are struggling with mental health problems and are scared and unsure what to do about it, worried that speaking out will forever mark them out as unsound or even unemployable.
And who can blame them in light of Tesco and Asda’s monumentally ill-judged mental patient fancy-dress costumes; Miley Cyrus’ obtuse, passive-aggressive taunting of Sinead O’Connor; and the Sun’s psycho-killer headline?
As usual Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, the UK mental health charities, are leading the way in challenging stereotypes through their “Time to Change” campaign. As well as organising yesterday’s event in Westminster, they have refreshed a 2008 study of parliamentarians’ mental health, which uncovered some revealing findings:
· The number of those concerned about their own mental health has more than doubled from 27% to 67% (25% MPs, 9% Lords and 66% staff). Nearly three quarters have been concerned about the mental health of a colleague;
· Despite the increase in public figures voicing their experiences, 44% of MPs, Peers and Parliamentary staff saw work-based stigma and a hostile reaction from the media and general population as barriers to being open about mental illness. This was up 10% from 2008;
· Only a quarter of parliamentarians have received mental health awareness training. Yet, four in five feel training would benefit them in their role; and
· 50% of respondents lacked the understanding to make reasonable adjustments for those with a mental health problem. Of those who had, many cited examples of flexible working, awareness of triggers, additional support and mentoring, within the context of what works for an individual.
With these findings and the broader issues in mind, a cross-party group of MPs including Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister met at yesterday’s parliamentary reception, while on the same day the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority signed the Time to Change “pledge” to stamp out stigma and discrimination in the workplace.
The event in Parliament was hosted by Kevan Jones MP who has openly discussed his own mental health problems in the past:
“In politics there is almost something in our DNA not to open up about things, as though it’s a sign of weakness. I’m signing the Time to Change pledge to encourage MPs to be more open about mental health and support the wellbeing of their staff. By talking about mental health, we can make sure the stigma surrounding it becomes a thing of the past.” (Kevan Jones MP)
At the event, MPs were encouraged to address mental health stigma and discrimination and support mental health and wellbeing among their own staff by committing to five key pledges:
1. Talk to your staff about mental health and wellbeing.
2. Ensure staff support services are flagged and visible.
3. Promote a healthy work/life balance. For example, flexible working hours can help staff to manage pressures on their time.
4. Review policies and procedures regularly to ensure equal opportunities, early intervention and support.
5. Use Time to Change resources to communicate anti-stigma messages.
This was perhaps the first opportunity for Parliamentarians to openly engage with the issue since the June 2012 Commons debate on mental health, when four MPs spoke (some for the first time) about their own experiences of mental health problems. Such open and honest engagement is not risk free, it would be naïve to say it is, but it will come as a relief to sufferers to hear vocal, cross-party and institutional support for bringing an end to mental health discrimination.
The source for the survey findings, five pledges and quote from Kevan Jones MP is Time to Change. For more information go to www.time-to-change.org.uk
The author declares an interest here: http://careers.theguardian.com/depression-battle-weak-unworthy
 The “All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health” survey was first undertaken in 2008, by The Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and Stand to Reason. It has been recommissioned by Time to Change during summer recess 2013. MPs, Lords and members of the parliamentary estate staff were all polled. There were 81 responses.
 Source: Time to Change MPs’ employers pledge