Mental health charity Mind has issued wellbeing advice and support to all 650 MPs sitting in Westminster and their staff, after a number of parliamentarians revealed the impact Brexit is having on their health
The charity’s advice comes after a number of parliamentarians have spoken out about the effects Brexit is having on their health. Conservative Huw Merriman revealed that he has seen significant weight loss, and Andrew Percy, who represents Brigg and Goole, said that he recently sought refuge in a cupboard to escape the turmoil in Westminster.
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham said that he had “never seen more frazzled MPs, physically and mentally” and that he “seriously feared” for the mental health of some of his colleagues.
Another anonymous parliamentarian described Westminster as “a boiling pot of mental ill health,” and a Labour Party coordinator spoke of MPs and their staff struggling with anxiety in the “toxic political climate.” Others have highlighted the impact of abuse they are receiving around Brexit and have called for greater mental health support.
We must not forget that politicians are human and it is vital that during this particularly pressurised time, they are able to access the right mental health support
Parliamentary Manager at Mind, Louise Rubin said: “It has been really worrying to hear stories of MPs hiding in cupboards, turning to alcohol and feeling out of control because of the pressure they are under.
“Mental wellbeing depends on various factors, including working conditions, which is why we are offering support to MPs and their staff. We must not forget that politicians are human and it is vital that during this particularly pressurised time, they are able to access the right mental health support.”
The past few weeks in Parliament have been unprecedented. While some MPs have reported seeking help through therapy and mindfulness courses, Mind urge all parliamentarians to get the support they need, whatever that may look like.
While Brits may lack sympathy for their elected representatives, it appears there is common ground. A recent survey by consultancy Britain Thinks revealed out of 2,004 voters, 64% believe Brexit is having a negative impact on people’s mental health.
Chief Executive of Mind, Paul Farmer wrote in his letter to MPs’ offices that MPs and their staff are working in a “uniquely pressurised environment” and emphasised that they are not immune to developing mental health problems.
People are fearing for their own, and their peers’ wellbeing. Phillip Lee, a Conservative MP and practising GP who last year resigned as minister to campaign against Brexit, expressed his concern for those “visibly struggling.”
“There are MPs who have snapped in what has become a pressure cooker environment,” he said. “You’ve seen tears, anger and arguments between colleagues, most of whom are simply exhausted.”
Parliament in the era of social media
This is a monumental change for the UK and it is tearing the country apart. In the era of social media, where Brits can not only keep up to date real time with what’s happening in Parliament, but can have a direct say on the matter, is something that should be considered.
No longer are parliamentarians facing criticism only by their peers and journalists. The British public - and indeed, the world - are watching, and it’s only too easy to send a message expressing their thoughts.
Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP and former health minister said: “The responsibility weighs heavily over MPs… It’s the first time we have been through a trauma like this in Parliament in the era of social media, where there is this constant barrage of criticism.
For someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about the challenges of mental ill health, I think these are the perfect conditions for many MPs to really struggle
“Everything we are doing is in the public spotlight and every move you make can be open to misinterpretation,” he continued. “It’s hard to maintain your sanity and keep a clear head when you have competing pressures of party, constituency and your own moral compass - all of which may be in conflict.
“For someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about the challenges of mental ill health, I think these are the perfect conditions for many MPs to really struggle.”
Andrea Leadsom, leader of the Commons, warned early last week that the constant abuse on Twitter and in MPs inboxes naturally will be having an impact on their mental health.
“We cannot overlook the effect this is having not just on the health of our democracy, but also of MPs and the staff of both Houses, who are working such long hours to support us,” she said. “Brexit is hugely important, but health is a priority.”
Everyone deserves mental health support
It’s important to remember that we all have mental health. “Whatever profession you are in, and wherever you work, you should be able to access good mental health support when you need it,” says Ms Rubin, Mind’s Parliamentary Manager.
“In recent weeks, many MPs and those who work for them have talked about their large workloads, the febrile atmosphere in parliament and abuse they are receiving around Brexit.
“It’s easy to neglect mental wellbeing under these conditions but long-term unmanageable stress can negatively affect physical and mental health, and can lead to or worsen things like depression or anxiety.”
Rubin also urges those whose mental wellbeing is being affected by the political climate to seek help. “We know that the impact of turbulent political times can have also extends beyond MPs. While the effect of Brexit on the nation’s mental health is hard to measure, political and world events can create a great deal of uncertainty, which can make some of us feel anxious, stressed and down.”
“If feelings are overwhelming or affecting your daily life, we do recommend speaking to a friend or family member, or go to your GP who can talk you through the support that’s available.”
The advice provided by Mind to Westminster includes a stress-management guide, with tips for relaxation, sleep advice and recommendations on physical activity. They have also provided information on a range of mental health problems, resources to support their own wellbeing as well as their staff, and contact details for Mind’s Infoline.
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