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UK Politics

Ed Miliband criticises mental illness 'belittlers' Jeremy Clarkson and Janet Street-Porter


Ed Miliband today criticised media personalities Jeremy Clarkson and Janet Street-Porter for belittling people with mental illness and contributing towards the stigma that sufferers feel.

The Labour leader said the taboo around mental health was "one of the most serious challenges" facing the country, affecting one in four people directly and costing the economy billions of pounds a year.

He praised the example of people like cricketer Marcus Trescothick and television presenter Stephen Fry for speaking out about their battles with depression.

But he said "far too often" there was "scepticism and abuse" that reinforced the taboo about mental health meaning many people who struggle with it do not feel able to discuss it or seek help.

"It's not just casual name calling in the streets or the school playground. There are still people who abuse the privilege of their celebrity to insult, demean and belittle others," he said in a speech at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

"Such as when Janet Street-Porter in a shocking article says that depression is 'the latest must-have accessory' promoted by the 'misery movement'.

"And Jeremy Clarkson, who may have at least acknowledged the tragedy of people who end their own lives, goes on to call them "Johnny Suicides" whose bodies should be left on train tracks rather than delay journeys.

"It is attitudes like these that reinforce the stigma that blights millions of people's lives, and holds our country back.

"The fight against racism, against sexism and against homophobia, made the acceptable unacceptable. So we should join the fight against this intolerance. It is wrong, it costs Britain dear, and it has to change."

He accepted that politicians had also also largely failed to take a lead on the issue.

"For far too long leading politicians from all parties, including my own, have maintained an almost complete silence about mental health," he said.

Mental illness creates additional costs for the NHS of £10 billion in the provision of extra physical care, while the wider economy loses £26 billion a year to sickness absence, replacing staff and reduced productivity caused, he said.

"Now there will be some people who say that mental health is the kind of subject we can talk about in the good times, but not when the economy is such a priority.

"In my view, that is the opposite of the truth. Because mental health is an economic challenge holding back prosperity.

"Because however hard the economic challenges, we cannot forget about people's quality of life. And, finally, if we want a politics that talks directly to the challenges that British people face in their everyday lives, we cannot allow the silence to continue."

Mr Miliband announced the creation of a taskforce headed by the chair of Barts NHS Trust, Stephen O'Brien, to draw up a strategic plan for mental health in society.

He also called for the NHS constitution to be re-written to give patients the same legal right to therapies for treating mental illness as they already have to drugs and treatments for physical illness.

Labour would also ensure that training for all professional staff covers mental health and would integrate physical and mental healthcare more effectively, he said.

In his first major speech since he claimed the One Nation mantle of Benjamin Disraeli for Labour, Mr Miliband argued that Britain could not be one nation if it wrote off people with mental illness.

Just as Disraeli tackled the issue of sanitation to improve the nation's health in the 19th century and Labour created the NHS to deal with physical health in the 20th, it was now time to address the issue of mental health in the 21st, he argued.

"Like sanitation, it is a massive public health challenge, affecting millions. Like the demand for an NHS in the 1930s, our national response is wholly inadequate against the scale of the challenge.

"In both the 19th and 20th centuries, it took war to shock us out of complacency. This time we can't wait for greater crisis. We must act. It means changing the ways that we do things in this country so that we actually save money and improve lives.

"But it requires us to break the taboos, to build a consensus for action, to change our NHS and to deploy all the resources of Britain - a truly One Nation solution - to put it right."