MPs discuss mental health problems in emotional Commons debate

A Tory MP disclosed she suffered suicidal feelings after having a baby as a series of MPs spoke today of their personal battles with mental illness in an emotional Commons debate.

The Conservative Dr Sarah Wollaston, a GP, said she had experienced “severe” post-natal depression at what should have been the “happiest time of my life”.

She said: “I know what it’s like and I’m sure there are many other MPs who will know exactly what it feels like to feel that your family would genuinely be better off with you and to experience the paralysis that can come with severe depression.”

Dr Wollaston revealed that she had suffered panic attacks on the London Underground as she commuted to work after having a baby.

But she added: “For many people, an experience of depression will make you a stronger person and a more understanding person.

“I am absolutely sure my own experiences of depression and recovery made me go on to be a much more sympathetic doctor and, I hope, a more sympathetic and understanding MP as well in recognising issues in others and responding to them.”

The former Labour minister, Kevan Jones, appeared close to tears as he recounted his experiences with deep depression during the debate on mental illness.

He said: “Like a lot of men, you try and deal with it yourself. You don’t talk to people. First of all it creeps up on you very slowly.

“I think in politics we are designed to think that somehow that if you admit fault or frailty you are going to be looked on in a disparaging way both by the electorate but also by your peers as well.

“We have got to talk about mental health in this House. Actually admitting that sometimes you need help is not a sign of weakness.”

Mr Jones said he had stayed up late last night thinking about whether to reveal his own experiences with depression and admitted many in his family were not aware of his problem.

The Tory MP Charles Walker said he had suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for the last 31 years.

He said the condition, which he described as an “internal Tourettes”, meant he had to do everything in sets of four, whether it be turning off light switches or washing his hands. The illness had taken him to some “quite dark places”, he said.

Mr Walker said: “My wife and children often say I resemble an extra from Riverdance as I bounce in and out of a room switching lights off. Woe betide me if I switch off a light five times, then I must do it another three times. Counting becomes very, very important.

“And of course I leave crisp packets and biscuit packets around the house because if I go near a bin I have to wash my hands on numerous occasions.”

The Tory MP Nicky Morgan, who opened the debate, said: “Mental health comes at an economic and social cost to the UK economy of £105bn a year and yet mental health has been a Cinderella service – poorly funded, compared to other conditions, and not spoken about nearly enough either inside this House or outside.

“It is the largest single cause of disability within the NHS, 23 per cent of the disease burden within the NHS and yet the NHS spends only 11 per cent of its annual budget on mental health problems.”


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