As Boris Johnson is announced as the UK’s new Prime Minister, Happiful questions what this will mean for mental health moving forwards?

After a divisive leadership campaign with Brexit at its core, Boris Johnson has now been announced as the Prime Minister of the UK. While the coming days will be spent determining who will defect, remain and serve in his cabinet, the government’s mid-term focus remains upon how, and with what deal the UK will leave the EU on 31 October.

However, over the past few months, there have been many questions asked about what Boris Johnson’s premiership could mean for the nation’s mental health. This is both in terms of the shadow his behaviour as the nation’s leader casts across the country - think the Trump-impact - and his willingness to prioritise mental health care, and understand the wide-spectrum of needs in a country where at least one in four people experience, or live with, mental illness.

Boris Johnson on Mental Health

In a recent article, written for the Telegraph, Johnson cited his hero (and the subject of one of his many books) Winston Churchill, as having ‘chased away’ the black dog of depression through work.

Johnson wrote; “It is work that sometimes stresses us out, and work that causes anxiety; but it is also work that can absorb us and take us out of ourselves until the clouds have gone. If work is the cause, it is also part of the cure,” ending this statement with the assertion that people need to be able to stay in their roles, while receiving psychological support.

The implication of this suggestion, to ‘work through it’, is problematic and perhaps more relevant to a Churchillian war-time era

The implication of this suggestion, to ‘work through it’, is problematic and perhaps more relevant to a Churchillian war-time era where a ‘stiff upper lip’ culture, since proven to be detrimental to the mental health of generations, was prized.

The article culminates in Johnson’s offering, preferential tax treatment to companies that look after their employees in work. Mental illness, as Johnson claims, is responsible for 57% of all the working days lost to ill health in this country and therefore a block in the nation’s productivity, and this can be addressed by this change to tax laws. He concludes; “We can chase away those Black Dogs, boost the economy and save money, all at once.”

While any efforts to normalise mental illness in the workplace should be applauded, Johnson’s one-size-fits-all approach fails to address a plethora of wider issues and mental health conditions. It simplifies the issues around working with mental illness (excluding the need for a broader understanding of mental health in the workplace, something that Natasha Devon’s Where’s Your Head At? campaign is seeking to address), the wide and complex nature of mental health conditions beyond depression, and the fact that not all people who work, do so in the traditional city-based roles he envisages.

How does this, for example, work for those on zero-hour contracts, who are full-time carers, or who work in high-turn-around or seasonal industries such as catering and tourism, where extensive HR and care packages may not be of the deal?

The oversimplification of mental health and the implications of Johnson’s view, and the impact it has on those who sit outside what he perceives mental illness to be, was addressed by the public, as well as mental health activists and advocates.

Hopes for the future

It is hoped that Johnson’s proposal and positioning on mental health is simply a snapshot at this point, and that a more nuanced and effective stance will come to the fore from his new cabinet.

Mental health charities, including Mental Health Foundation are now actively seeking to engage and extend the conversation to ensure this is the case.

We hope that the new PM takes the time to consider mental health and the whole spectrum of issues and needs.