Mental health services for MPs: what about the rest of us?

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M Ps are to benefit from a clinic that’s being set up at Westminster to help growing numbers of them to cope with depression and anxiety.

Officials have approved £25,000 per year to fund specialist treatment after doctors in the House of Commons reported growing numbers of MPs with these mental health problems.

Unsurprisingly, the response from members of the public has been mixed. I couldn’t resist seeing what the Daily Mail twitterati, the voice of middle England, had to say about it.

Sheer probability guaranteed a few sympathetic responses: ‘…depression can affect anyone,’ says one, ‘and I can imagine how some MPs have debilitating illness that can be just as bad as a physical illness, if not worse since you can’t take a pill to make it better. I can also imagine it’s quite difficult for some MPs to go to their GP, who may be a constituent, so for £25k a year, I say it’s money we’ll spent.’

But most hold no hostages (‘I thought Parliament WAS a mental health clinic,’ says one…). And, even though I’m an uber-champion of people with mental health problems, I can see why. People are cross. Really cross.

As one Mail Online reader says, ordinary people (or ‘the plebs’ as they put it) with mental health issues have to wait ‘months and months’ to access the help they need, adding, ‘I had a psychiatric assessment yesterday, have been put on a waiting list for therapy, at least 4 months if not longer. They should wait their turn like we have to.’

When I first read about the service, my initial thought was pretty much like everyone else’s – ‘Perhaps their first port of call ought to be their own GP, as is the case for the rest of us.’

But apparently MPs have asked for this Westminster-based service because discrimination over mental health makes it hard for them to talk to doctors in their own constituencies. They have said they find it much harder to talk to their local GPs about mental health problems than they would for physical ailments.

I can see why this might be the case – most of us, I would imagine, find it harder to talk about ‘matters of the heart’ than to explain that we’ve done our back in tripping over some Lego.

But you know what, we have to do it. We have no choice. Besides, consultations with GPs are confidential, whether you’re a lord, celebrity or anybody else – why, then, are MPs so worried? Are they in danger of flattering themselves?

As I’ve said in a previous blogs, one in four people will, according to Mind, experience a mental health problem in any given year.

And the economic downturn of the past few years has not only seen resources for mental health services squeezed even more whilst, at the same time, calls for help from the general public have been on the rise. Mind says calls to its helpline about finance and employment issues have doubled since 2008.

People like ‘us’ are really feeling the pinch and it’s playing havoc with our mental health, whether it’s creating new problems or making existing ones worse. However, people like ‘us’ DON’T have the luxury of a walk-in service where we are seen by a consultant psychiatrist from a major London teaching hospital when we feel there is something wrong with us.

We wait in the queue. And sometimes – especially when it comes to counselling services, for example – that queue is very, very long. Long enough to make us feel like we could be getting a whole lot worse before we’re hopefully going to feel a whole lot better.

I suppose that’s why part of me is a bit cross, too, on behalf of all ‘ordinary’ people like me and you, Mail readers or otherwise. We just have to suck it up.

I know it’s probably a tad simplistic, but I can’t also help thinking that whilst this £25k is so easily found to help MPs, Bipolar UK continues to struggle to find £100k to keep vital services going. Other vital organisations like this have similar financial worries. People run marathons, shave their hair off or sit in baths of custard to raise funds for these amazing charities – MPs just say, ‘We need this service’ and, bing! There is it. No wonder people are getting riled.

But whilst I’m a bit indignant, I’m also heartened that mental health is, it seems, being recognised as a true issue within the Parliamentary community (this announcement also coincides with the passing of new legislation in Parliament that scraps a law saying MPs lose their seats if they have been sectioned for more than six months).

As John Thurso, MP, spokesman for the Members Estimate Committee which agreed financing of this new service for MPs, said: ‘All conscientious employers want to help those with mental health issues and often assistance in accessing help is the first vital step.’  I agree.

A 2012 study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that just a quarter of employees surveyed say their organisation encourages staff to talk openly about mental health issues, whilst only four in ten say they would feel confident saying if they had a problem. This is despite the fact that mental health related sickness absence costs the country £8.4bn per year, never mind the personal cost to people’s lives.

Surely, then, the decision to actively tackle MP’s mental health complaints within their own workplace could, by example, prompt a sea-change to enshrine better attitudes towards mental health in everybody else’s workplaces, too.That could be the next thing to tick off the Parliamentary mental health ‘to do’ list.

Not only could that could help to vastly improve the mental health of the nation, it might also help to put paid to some of the furious comments about this latest spending decision (‘The whole flaming country is stressed and anxious thanks to them and their stupid policies’) and help to restore faith in MPs as true advocates of the people.

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Freelance journalist and mental health blogger, based in London UK

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