EditorDan Parton(18/06/12)was impressed by MPs for their performance in last week's Commons debate on mental health:
It was a sentence I never thought I would hear from a politician: "I have been a practising fruitcake for 31 years".Brilliant. Conservative MP Charles Walker's pithy description of himself and his experience of obsessive compulsive disorder brought a roar of laughter from the House, and simultaneously highlighted and confronted the stigma associated with mental health problems.
Walker's words followed Labour MP Kevan Jones' emotional account of his experiences of depression in a (long overdue) Commons debate on mental health last Thursday. For this, Jones and Walker should be applauded, as should Dr Sarah Wollaston, who has also spoken of her own experience of post-natal depression. While Walker, Jones and Wollaston are not the first MPs to have mental health problems- most famously Sir Winston Churchill and his 'black dog' of depression comes to mind - I cannot think of any other serving MPs who have opened up in the House about them.
The significance of this should not be underestimated. Many people are still afraid of talking about their mental health problems because of the stigma that is still associated with them.Indeed, Jones said that he thought long and hard about admitting that he has experienced depression before deciding to do so during the debate.
Jones added that he doesn't care if his admission will change the way that some people view him. And he shouldn't. He is still the same MP as he was before. But, seeing some of the people who run the country admitting to having mental health problems wil hopefully encourage others to come forward and to seek help.
More than that, this mental health debate should be viewed as a platform to build on. With this, and the outdated, discriminatory legislation against people with mental ill-health on the way out,now is the time for the agenda to be pushed. Perhaps most importantly, the Government's mental health strategy, 'no health without mental health' needs to be reinvigorated urgently. While itwas launched amid much fanfare in February 2011, more needs to be done to ensure that its aims are effectively delivered.
To drive that development, a minister for mental health could be part of the answer. Professor Lord Layard of the LSE Centre for Economic Performance, talking at the release the report How mental illness loses out in the NHS, once again called for this approach - which seems a wholly positive idea.
As the LSE's report shows, 75% of people with mental illnesses do not receive any form of treatment. This has to change. But who better, as a Minster, to drive this than someone like Walker or Wollaston, given their lived experience and support for mental health issues?