MPs more likely to suffer mental health problems than the general public, research finds
MPs are more likely to suffer depression, unhappiness and worthlessness than the general public, a new study has found.
A survey conducted by the British Medical Journal showed 34% of parliamentarians had a common mental disorder, compared to 26% of general respondents to the national Health Survey for England (HSE).
Researchers have warned that better support should be available to MPs as the findings also revealed 77% of politicians surveyed were not aware that the anonymous Parliamentary Health and Wellbeing Service (PHWS) exists, alongside a further 55% who did not know how to access it.
The service was set up in 2013 to boost MPs’ access to mental health treatment, after recognising they were unlikely to want to seek help in their own constituencies due to their profile in the community.
Around half of the MPs (52%) who took part in the research also said they were unwilling to open up about their mental health to party whips, and a further 48% did not want to confide in their MP colleagues.
The report's lead co-author Nicole Votruba said: “People in every kind of workplace should be able to access help when experiencing mental distress so we were concerned to discover how few MPs knew about support services within Parliament.
“The extent of stigma among MPs, which our results indicate, is startling and seems out of step with increasing public awareness of mental health.”
Almost a quarter of MPs responded to the anonymous online questionnaire in December 2016, in a bid to plug the knowledge gap about their mental health.
Questions ranged from asking about feeling unhappy or depressed to low concentration levels and feelings of being a worthless person.
Their answers were compared across HSE’s four categories – the total population, corporate managers, all managers and those in high-income groups.
When asked about mental health 34% of MPs responded that there was evidence of the presence of "probable mental ill health", compared to 26% of the general public, 22% of corporate managers, 23% of all managers and 17% of high-income groups.
On thinking of themselves as a "worthless person", 11% of MPs replied 'rather more than usual', compared to 5% in all other categories apart from high-income groups, which scored 3%.
Researchers also suggest the low response rate from MPs itself could be revealing in indicating a stigma regarding mental health.
“There is also a potential risk of under reporting from people who might be reluctant to take part in the study because they are affected by mental health problems or because of the stigma associated with the topic,” they add.
“Prior experiences of, or fears of stalking and harassment, which might result from their disclosure, may decrease the willingness of MPs to participate in the survey.”
Rates of poor mental health among female MPs was also higher at 41%, compared to 30% of their male counterparts.
Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter, a co-author of the study said: "This is the first study of its kind to start to evaluate the mental health and wellbeing of UK parliamentarians. It suggests a high level of mental distress among MPs and raises important issues about how we can better support the people making and scrutinising the laws that run our country, who experience poor mental health.”
Responding to the survey's findings, a House of Commons spokesperson said: "PHWS offers a confidential service dealing with a wide variety of both physical and mental health and wellbeing issues. PHWS staff work in all areas of occupational health, which includes providing a broad area of care.
"They also have responsibility for training and promoting health and wellbeing across the parliamentary estate. There are a variety of ways in which the service is promoted, including information on the intranet, regular campaigns and events and leaflets and posters on various topics around the Estate."
They added: "Through Health Assured we also provide an Employee Assistance Programme to help Members deal with personal and professional issues, including health and well-being information. As part of the programme Health Assured run a free confidential helpline, which is available 24/7, and face-to-face counselling sessions can also be arranged where appropriate.
"The Speaker's Chaplain also provides pastoral care for all those who work in the Palace of Westminster."