Alastair Campbell: People should feel they can be open about their mental health problems

After three MPs spoke out today about their mental health problems Alastair Campbell writes about his own experiences, and why the stigma around mental health issues must be challenged

I know many people with mental health problems who say they can deal with their symptoms, but what they find really difficult is the stigma which leads to discrimination in the workplace.

They feel ashamed about having depression and fear their employer wouldn't understand if they can’t come into work.

If they had to take time off because they had cancer or a broken arm or had to go into hospital for an operation, everyone would understand.

I was very lucky when I had a breakdown in the 1980s because my old employer offered me a job when I had recovered and I made the decision then always to be open. I have never regretted that.

We all have physical and mental health and all of us have some days that are better than others.

But those who struggle with mental illnesses also have to face the taboo associated with that.

I was on my way back from Ireland today, closely following all the Twitter activity about David Cameron’s appearance at the Leveson inquiry, when I noticed to my surprise that mental health was trending on Twitter.

I then received a very excited text from Sue Baker, who runs the Time for Change campaign to combat the discrimination faced by people with mental health problems.

She and I have made speeches and written articles about the need for more people in public life to raise the issue.

So I was delighted that Kevan Jones and Charles Walker have spoken so frankly about their own experiences and greatly appreciate that Nicky Morgan secured this vital Commons debate.

Part of the campaign’s aim is to try to get to the position where people feel they can be as open about their mental health as about their physical wellbeing.

There used to be a taboo about speaking about the ‘big C’ – cancer. That has been swept away and no-one would say treating cancer was not a priority.

Cuts are happening to mental health services with both the NHS and the voluntary sector under financial pressure.

That is happening against the historical background of mental health being a Cinderella service.

That has to change – and having MPs being so open about their own issues will help to build the political support necessary to stop mental health services being pushed to the back of the queue.

Alastair Campbell, former director of communications and strategy at Downing Street, is an Ambassador for Time to Change.

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