The timing of Mental Health Awareness Week 2015 could not be better. MPs have just been returned to Parliament and are busy getting stressed, learning the ropes, and considering what they will focus on for the next five years. Now more than ever, we need to double down on our efforts to improve our attitude towards mental health.
For many years, mental health was barely discussed in public. Yet every one of us will have witnessed the impact of mental illness whether directly, or indirectly through friends, family or colleagues. Whichever way you cut it, millions of our fellow citizens have to cope with a mental health challenge, and that includes MPs.
Mental health has always had a huge impact on people’s ability to lead happy and fulfilling lives, as well as on our businesses, schools, and public services. When I was first elected to Parliament in 2005 my first publication was in a book called The Forgotten. My chapter was about mental health and I suggested ways to tackle stigma and improve the situation. We have certainly moved on a long way over the last decade, but there is still some way to go.
Mental health is part of our normal human condition, yet people affected can still feel alone or embarrassed by their predicament. This must stop. There’s no reason that mental health should be whispered about awkwardly while physical ailments are treated as a normal part of day-to-day life. Sufferers must feel able to be honest about their struggles and society should be respectful and accommodating. Successful employers recognise the unique benefits of hiring sufferers and being considerate of their needs.
We have reasons for optimism. The Conservative manifesto has committed to put parity of esteem between mental and physical health into law, as well as offer more support for mental health sufferers. Charities have also been raising awareness and training people to help sufferers – to take one example, the Alzheimer’s Society has trained over a million “dementia friends.” A widespread understanding of mental health will enhance all our lives, as well as those directly affected. No one should be left behind in a caring, developed country like ours.
I hope that our country will soon be one where anyone with a mental health challenge has the opportunity to fulfil their ambitions, find work that works for them, and be treated with as much respect as any other citizen.
As the new Government sets to work on its agenda, I’m hopeful that we can usher in a new attitude towards mental health, respecting the needs of sufferers as well as liberating them to contribute to society. Above all, MPs and Government must ensure that public services and access to them are designed with mental health in mind.
Mental Health Awareness Week runs from the 11th to 17th May. Find out more here.