There’s a great article in the Guardian’s Comment Is Free today by Jonathan Naess, the head of the mental health lobby Stand To Reason. He points out that although one in five MPs say they’ve experienced mental illness, hardly any are prepared to openly admit it for fear of damaging their electability.
He quotes one MP who , in an email explaining why he felt he couldn’t appear on TV talking about mental illness, wrote: “”I would love as an established MP to talk openly of the serious depressive illness I endured long before I became or even thought of being a MP. It might serve as some small encouragement to those few young people currently shrouded in despair feeling their life is hopeless. A thread of real cruelty though runs through the modern media and I am sufficiently politically aware to acknowledge it and for now let the head rule the heart.”
Naess even points out that, according to arcane English law, ‘lunatics’ and ‘idiots’ are forbidden to run from office. What is a lunatic? If you define it as anyone who has experienced mental illness, then that would rule out many MPs, including Winston Churchill, who famously suffered from depression. It would also rule out Abraham Lincoln, another depressive.
There is still serious stigma regarding mental illness. I remember when I was interviewed by The Guardian talking about my experience with social anxiety, some friends contacted me, not to offer support, but to express surprise and trepidation that I had spoken about it openly. Presumably they thought it was damaging to my image, and therefore potentially damaging to them, as associates of mine…