Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Stresses Of The Job

A recent survey into the mental health of politicians has been published.

It showed that while almost one in every five MPs have experienced problems at one time, around one in every three said the stigma surrounding the issue and the potentially negative reactions from colleagues and in the media meant they were less likely to be open about their concerns and this would reduce the likelihood that they would seek appropriate treatment.

Paul Jenkins of mental health charity Rethink said that public representatives need to be free to bring their personal experiences to bear without being "gagged by the prejudice, ignorance and fear surrounding mental illness" - worries that clearly were left to fester as recently as the 1945-50 parliament when 4 Labour MPs committed suicide.

The survey was to support a submission made Rethink as part of a campaign to repeal section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983.

Conservative Peer Earl Howe argued that Section 141 is in contravention of the Human Rights Act 1998, while the example of Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik (who was reelected after admitting his own experiences) proves that mental health concerns are not a barrier to gaining, staying in or being effective in high public office.

LibDem Reading West parliamentary candidate Cllr Patrick Murray has publicly backed the campaign to end the discrimination and remove the stigma which "leads people to suffer alone and in silence". He describes the current system in this country as a 'tragedy' urgently needing reform, and in a powerful statement said:
"People who are suffering at the moment need to know that they are not alone and that you can recover and make a positive contribution to society. I know that because I’ve been there, genuinely believing that there was no hope, no chance of any kind of a life... I recovered and got myself into a position where I could potentially help others."
Former Reading East MP Jane Griffiths (who has been the subject of a whispering campaign against her on this issue) agrees that stress is an inherent part of the reponsibility of representing a constituency, but sweeps concern about those pressures under the carpet by saying it is no more stressful than teaching or cleaning.

Tony Partridge meanwhile discusses his own experience of depression as a student and the paralysing moodswings which accompanied it. He is nevertheless capable of looking on the bright side by reminding himself that admitting to weakness is a strength as it enables you to see your weaknesses, understand them and learn from them.


Update: Jane has responded, apparently she thinks this was some sort of personal attack.

Newsbiscuit's spooky kid thinks Labour MP's should be pushing for the assisted suicide of Gordon Brown's career, who after all seems intent on committing political suicide. Yes, it is suppposed to be satire, so there's a message in there too.

An Ispos-Mori poll provides evidence that people often cling with increasing desperation to crutches using 'stress' as an excuse.

Elsewhere Dr George Simon asks whether the mental health crisis is a consequence of overreliance on curing problems created by our modern society rather than prevention.

Oranjepan asks:
Don't you want to know what issues and experiences the people you might vote for are dealing with and can bring to bear on the job? Are those pressures something that should be blithely accepted, or is there something that can be done to make life more bearable?


  1. I knew MPs were crazy! And here's the proof.

  2. I'm not sure that's the most helpful thing you could say, Elizabeth.

    There are two competing views on the membership of parliament - that it should be representative of the best of the nation and that it should be representative of the population.

    Somehow I find it unrealistic to believe MPs somehow automatically gain immunity to behaviour patterns or diseases which the rest of the population experiences.

    I know several people who I'd describe as crazy - is that more of a reflection upon them or upon us? who wouldn't be driven insane by an inhuman world?

  3. You seem to have missed the central point of Jane's post. It is usual for it to be said about women in public life that they are mad. When I was a councillor it was said by men about all the women councillors at one stage or another.

    Mental Health is an important issue. Too important to be used as a cheap shot about someone you just want to undermine. Questions about people's mental health are used in a demeaning way by those wishing to undermine others, and this particularly happens to women and is particularly undertaken by men in my experieince, similarly it tends to be done by people wishing to undermine others in their own political party. There are some in Reading Labour Party who reach for the mad epithet very readily. The Tony Page example she gives is but one.

  4. That may have been true in the past, but I think attitudes are changing - particularly in view that gender balance in the public realm is gradually improving.

    IMO comments about mental health are demeaning to all concerned because they are a smear, distracting from the actual content of decisions taken by our representatives and any valid criticisms of them.

    There have always been and will continue to be some particularly outlandish and colourful characters in all spheres, yet this is never a hindrance to the ability to prosper from any good decisions taken, nor is simple wackiness alone a cause to dismiss a contribution to the wider public debate - I think everyone accepts that satire plays an important and valuable function, but does anyone really want Paul Merton for PM?

    Surely politics is about issues, not personalities?

  5. So the publicity about one of the local MPs has all been about his voting position on matters in the House of Commons rather than his man of the people, cheery chappy persona? Politics is about issues and personalities.

    Gender balance in the public realm improving? Where? The Lib Dems are still nowhere on women MPs and cndidates and not much better on Councillors. Tories will porbably have improved at the next election and Labout is going backward. In 1990 they were almost at 40% of their Councillors in Reading being female, what is it now six out of 19 - not even a third? It's only five years since they replaced a winning woman MP with a man who had never won a Parliamentary election and went on to lose the seat.

    You've a very complacent, dare I say male, attitude to this.

  6. Gender and other forms of representative balance is gradually improving in all areas, and any temporary setbacks in politics needs to be seen in the wider context of gains in other areas such as business - which is one of the reasons why all efforts to encourage participation are to be welcomed.

    Of course no system can be perfect, but it's not, or at least should not be a partisan issue.

  7. I can't believe the complacency.

  8. Whose complacency is that, Anon? What have you done today to help this issue (apart from trying to blame others)?

    I think this is an issue which cuts both ways, so before you get back on your high horse it might be good to keep criticism constructive.


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