UK Politics

MPs Charles Walker and Kevan Jones tell of mental health issues

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Media captionMPs have spoken of their mental health issues, with one suggesting raising it in public may affect his career and another labelling himself a "practising fruitcake"

Two MPs have spoken out about their mental health problems in an effort to break the "taboo" around the issue.

Tory MP Charles Walker told MPs he was a "practising fruitcake" as he described how he had lived with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for more than 30 years.

His Labour colleague Kevan Jones told of his battle with depression and the "difficult" decision to speak out.

The pair earned praise from charities for their "historic" speeches.

MPs were told by Lib Dem Health Minister Paul Burstow that mental health was a "taboo subject" - even though one in four people in the UK will suffer from mental health problems at some point in their lives.

Speaking about his own experiences with OCD, Mr Walker, MP for Broxbourne, said: "On occasions it is manageable and, on occasions, it becomes quite difficult. It takes you to some quite dark places.

"I operate by the rule of four. So I have to do everything in evens.

"I have to wash my hands four times. I have to go in and out of a room four times. My wife and children often say I resemble an extra from Riverdance as I bounce in and out of a room."

Anti-stigma campaign

Mr Jones, MP for Durham North, said he had "thought very long and hard" about whether to speak publicly about his mental health problems.

"In 1996 I suffered from quite a deep depression related to work issues and other things going on in my life at that moment," he said in the Commons.

"Like a lot of men, you try and deal with it yourself. You don't talk to people. I just hope you realise, Mr Speaker, what I'm saying is very difficult right now."

He said it was important to talk about mental health in Parliament because "we are... in politics designed to admit that somehow if you admit fault or frailty you are going to be looked upon in a disparaging way, in terms of both the electorate and your peers as well".

He "didn't know" whether his admission would affect how people viewed him or his career prospects but added: "I actually don't care now because if it helps other people who have suffered from depression in the past - good."

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Media captionConservative MP Charles Walker says it is "liberating" to talk about mental health issues and it has made him a "more honest person"

He said funding should be made available for MPs suffering from mental health problems to get treatment.

Mr Walker and Mr Jones were both praised for the speeches by Time to Change, a mental health anti-stigma campaign run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

Campaign director Sue Baker said: "This will go down in the history books as we have never before seen our political leaders and Parliamentarians feel able to discuss their mental health problems openly without fear of discrimination.

"We want people from all walks of life to be able to do the same and it's great to see politicians making a stand."

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said the debate was an "an important milestone on the journey to remove the stigma and misunderstanding that surrounds mental illness".

"SANE hopes that the moving eloquence with which MPs revealed their own experiences with conditions such as OCD and depression will encourage others to come forward to seek help," she added.

Mr Burstow told MPs his department is ploughing millions of pounds into helping people with mental health problems.

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