National charity, Rethink Mental Illness has given an award to four MPs for speaking openly about their own mental health problems in Parliament and challenging negative attitudes towards mental illness.
The charity awarded Labour MP Kevan Jones and Conservative MPs Andrea Leadsom, Charles Walker and Dr Sarah Wollaston with its new, Outstanding Achievement Award at an event in London to celebrate its 40th Anniversary.
Each year the charity recognises people and services that have significantly improved the lives of people affected by mental illness.
Last June the four MPs opened up in parliament for the first time about their mental health problems.
Mr Jones told his peers how he struggled with severe depression in the mid-1990s. He also referred to the stigma attached to mental illness by saying that he didn’t know if his future political career would be “blighted” by the revelation. Mr Walker spoke about his 31-year old battle with obsessive compulsive disorder which he said took him to “dark places”.
Both Mrs Leadsom and Dr Wollaston talked about their own struggle with post-natal depression. Mrs Leadsom said she felt “utterly useless” at the time, and Dr Wollaston added that she had depression during what should have been the “happiest time” of her life.
In September all of the MPs backed the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill which, if passed, will put an end to the archaic laws which interfere with the rights of people with mental health problems to participate in jury service and become or remain a company director.
On receiving the award Mr Walker said:
“The great fear in politics is that one day you’ll look in the mirror and see a disappointed person looking back at you.
“I know now that after speaking out in June my colleagues and I will not have that problem. We were useful that day”.
Mr Jones spoke about being overwhelmed by the number of people contacting him to say thank you for speaking out, whilst Mrs Leadsom spoke about wanting to create a generation of mentally healthy adults by working tirelessly on infant mental health. Dr Wollaston said she was pleased to have helped to change attitudes towards mental illness, even if it was in the “smallest way”.
Paul Jenkins, CEO Rethink Mental Illness, said: “We wanted to show these MPs our gratitude for their public support to our cause.
“By speaking out so honestly about their mental health problems, they have taken significant steps in breaking down the stigma, discrimination and silence surrounding mental illness.
“For some people, the stigma surrounding mental illness is worse than the symptoms of the illness itself. That’s why as an organisation we are committed to reducing stigma though the campaign we run in partnership with Mind, Time to Change.”