Mark Argent
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Politics:: articles from 2015 General Election Campaign
Mental health and the election

27 April 2015
Mark Argent outside Hawthorn Centre

Recently the mental health charity Mind sent an email to everyone standing for election to parliament encouraging, us to take care of our mental health during the campaign.

That was very different from the deluge of emails encouraging us to pledge support various causes, and is instead a genuine recognition of the stresses of fighting a general election campaign. It’s been underscored for me by an email to all Liberal Democrat candidates to remind us of the pastoral support the party provides nationally, and comments shared privately among people who are standing.

I am very conscious that mental illness is stigmatised. As Health Minister, Norman Lamb has done a great deal to champion mental health, but people with mental health issues are often treated as “different” or “dangerous” in a way that people with physician illnesses are not. That happens even though one in four people will have a period of mental illness. We are all affected, when we ourselves become ill, or we find ourselves supporting friends or relatives. This is why I am excited by the Liberal Democrat commitment to mental health, which includes significant funding, and support for the Time to change campaign.

I am standing for election in North a West Leicestershire, where Snibston Discovery Park Museum is threatened with closure. At a recent public meeting in the campaign to prevent this, one of the speakers was someone who had dropped out of college because of mental health issues, and found volunteering at the museum a great help in her path towards beginning to look at applying for jobs. It was deeply impressive to hear her speak as her story could well have led her to be marginalised. I was also saddened to realise how rare such opportunities are for people with mental illnesses.

Mind’s email was right to highlight the impact of an election campaign on us as candidates. What they are highlighting also applies to anyone in a highly stress-inducing period. In a sense, this is about the “coughs and colds” of mental health — things which make life difficult, but are not emergencies, though sometimes are the start of something much more serious.

Mind’s suggestions are wise: make time to relax, make time for family and friends, get good sleep, look after your physical health, use your support network. Those are also things which it is easy to ignore when the pressure is on.

I am keen to see mental health treated in the same was as physical health so it becomes easier to acknowledge what is going on and seek help when needed. I hope that Mind’s suggestions about looking after our mental health as candidates will spread a little more widely. Something will ave been achieved if the conversation can switch from “coping with stress” to “keeping in good mental and physical shape even at stressful times”.