Why it’s vital MPs have an understanding of mental health problems…

Have you ever contacted your MP about a problem you’re facing? Thousands of people do it every year, and with 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health problems each year, a significant proportion of them will have some experience of mental illness.

This week, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Mental Health has launched a new guide for MPs and their staff to help them understand the issues and better support their constituents.

As Chair of the Group, I’m passionate about mental health. Alongside my work as a local MP, I value the opportunity to work with politicians from all the different parties who come together with charities like Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. In the APPG we discuss all aspects of mental health. We work on things like improving mental health emergency care, and ensuring mental and physical health are treated equally.

But as well as these important policy issues, I am increasingly asked by other politicians about the best way to support local people who are affected by mental illness. Mental health problems can be triggered by issues such as long-term illness, housing problems or social deprivation; matters we deal with most days.

MPs are often the first port of call for local people when they experience these kinds of obstacles. Local mental health campaigners frequently seek our help to create improved systems of support and recovery. So there are many reasons why people with mental illness and those close to them are likely to contact their MP.

This is why it is vitally important that as MPs and staff we have an awareness of mental illness and know the best ways to support constituents who live with mental illness, as well as their friends, family members and carers. This is why I am very pleased to announce the launch of the MPs and staffers’ guide to mental health: Where to go and what to do.  The guide provides information on how best to approach the subject of mental health, and what can be done practically in more serious situations. The booklet goes into some detail on the different types of mental illnesses and is a brilliant tool in raising awareness and educating us on mental health conditions. The All-Party Parliamentary Group will be launching the guide with MPs tomorrow, and sending every MP in England their own copy.

There are problems that MPs can’t help with. We’re not trained health care professionals, and this guide does not aim to change that. However it can help us to understand a little better what our constituents might be going through, so that we can work sensitively and know we’re always offering the best support we can.

James Morris is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health. The MPs and staffers’ guide to mental health was produced for the group by Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.