MPs to be surveyed about depression

By Ross Hawkins
Political correspondent, BBC Radio 4 Today

image copyrightReuters

MPs are to be surveyed about their mental health with questions about depression, their sense of self-worth and their drinking habits.

Former health minister Dr Dan Poulter is conducting the study alongside King's College London.

The Tory MP said he had seen colleagues clearly struggling with very low mood and behaving erratically under stress.

Researchers say it could establish if mental health issues are more prevalent among MPs than the general population.

The study, based on a standard psychiatric questionnaire, will ask MPs whether they feel they can face up to their problems, overcome difficulties or think of themselves as worthless.

'Public glare'

They will also be questioned in confidence about their drinking habits and whether they would be happy to discuss problems with party whips or fellow MPs.

Parliament spends £50,000 a year on a service for MPs at Westminster that can refer them for treatment.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has said MPs can be reluctant to get help for fear any referral becomes public knowledge.

Dr Poulter told BBC Radio 4's Today: "A lot of MPs work away from their families and their homes, and have to live a life in two places. It's very much a life that is in the public domain and in the public glare.

"I have seen in my time in Parliament colleagues who clearly are struggling and finding difficulty and don't always know where to turn for help."

Professor Graham Thornicroft, who is conducting the study alongside Dr Poulter, said a lack of social support from friends and family, sleep and exercise can all put MPs at a higher risk of mental health problems.

It comes after several politicians have spoken openly about their mental health problems in recent years.

Conservative MP Charles Walker and Labour former minister Kevan Jones both spoke in the House of Commons in 2012. The debate is widely credited with changing attitudes to mental health in Westminster.

Labour MP John Woodcock has also talked about suffering from depression.

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