Parliament Week reflections

alec_williamsAlec Williams

This year, Parliament Week aimed to encourage young people to become more involved in politics. The three meetings we set up between young people and the MPs provided a good opportunity for doing just that – they presented the setting for young people to learn more about the political system, the platform to discuss mental health and politics with an MP and ultimately, the opportunity for their voices to be heard.

The young people looked to explore the following questions:

  1. what are the attitudes of young people towards mental health?
  2. What support are young people currently getting with regards to mental health?
  3. And, what could any aspiring Government be doing to improve this?

What all three groups were in agreement about – MPs and young people alike – is that currently, there is nowhere near enough mental health and emotional wellbeing support for young people. So what needs to change? A good place to start is schools. The MPs and young people agreed that this is where young people should (a) receive the necessary mental health support from counselling, peer mentor groups and other various outreach projects and (b) be educated and develop their understanding and attitudes towards mental health. The format for the latter is PSHE (a programme for personal, social and health education), and provides the focus for Amber and Sophia’s ‘Stop it before i starts’ campaign, which aims to have PSHE placed on the National Curriculum.

This idea is gaining momentum – a Private Members Bill from Caroline Lucas MP supporting statutory PSHE lessons is currently going through Parliament and just this week the Government has announced a new schools-based initiative to address the crisis in mental health support for young people. Statutory mental health and emotional wellbeing lessons within PSHE would capture the importance of educating the next generation about mental health. But in taking this important step, new hurdles would appear. As Frankie and Amira pointed out, the current framework for mental health and emotional wellbeing lessons within PSHE is somewhat ineffective and would need to be revised and developed for this step to be successful.

One topic all groups were ready to discuss was the stigma associated with mental health. This was something that the young people and MPs were not only all very aware of, but could relate to within their own social and professional circles. In June 2012, four MPs stood before the House of Commons and made the personal political by challenging stigma and revealing their mental health issues. Yet despite this, our three MPs confirmed that mental health stigma is still very prevalent in Parliament.

Likewise, the young people highlighted the stigma that surrounds mental health in their schools and the difficulty this creates for young people in speaking out. In contrast, though, the three sets of young people spoke with an openness and frankness about their mental health history which was particularly inspiring. Glenda was right to highlight the difficulty in reversing the issue of stigma – it is deeply entrenched within the nation’s psyche and it will take a long time to see a complete shift in public attitudes. That being said, much work is being done to rectify this and as our Parliament Week experience has highlighted, there is a younger generation coming through who are aware of mental health and responding appropriately.

From reading the blogs, it seems that the three groups of young people are more determined than ever to make a difference to mental health as a result of this process and that the MPs listened carefully to their opinions. It is up to this generation of young people and the forthcoming governments to continue to foster positive public attitudes towards mental health and work to provide better support for young people. With young people like Yara, Frankie, Amira, Sophia and Amber, their half of the bargain seems to be in good hands. And hopefully, as Glenda Jackson pointed out, future governments will listen to their voices and develop methods for providing them with better mental health support.

A big thank you to all the young people and MPs for taking part in this project.

Frankie and Amira meet Glenda Jackson MP

glenda_frankie_amiraOn the 4th of November, we and the Gloucestershire participation group travelled to London to meet MP Glenda Jackson to discuss what the government should be doing to support young people with mental health issues. We set off early on the train and discussed our pre-made notes and questions for Glenda.

Once we arrived into Paddington we got straight on the tube and straight to Portcullis house to meet Alec. We met Glenda in reception and got mildly told off for being slightly late (due to train delays). We met in the canteen of Portcullis house and started to talk to get to know each other and how this opportunity had come about. We explained about the participation group and how it has benefited us both.

Next we all spoke about some of the points from the notes we had both made prior to the meeting, about referrals and waiting times for assessment and Glenda explained that there wasn’t much she could do about this as it is simply funding and the main governments cuts that makes this one of the areas to be affected. We also bought up the issue of inpatient care and how it was grossly underfunded and how young people in crisis were being turned away from the care that they needed. Glenda explained that this was the same issue as referrals and assessment times concerning money and local budget cuts.

The next topic was raising the stigma of mental health and how we could all go about trying to do this, Glenda explained that this isn’t just a new issue, and this has been an ongoing issue since the start of time, and really there wasn’t anything that we could do except start at the beginning of the problem with educating people about the issues that surround mental health.

I bought up the issues of schools and them not educating young people about mental health including self-harm long/short term issues and ways of coping with difficult thoughts also educating young people on why people get mental health issues and explaining about chemicals and help and support. People go into schools and talk to young people about drugs and alcohol even STI’s and safe sex, but never mental health. I explained that I had planned a project to get a team together to go into schools and educate young people (years 7, 8 & 9) on mental health to reduce the stigma in primary and secondary schools. Glenda liked the sound of this project and has since called my mum to discuss this, also she sent us a package including the third CAMHS report of the mental health committee, to help with the project. We are now planning the lessons and project outline to take to our local MP, Jeffery Clifton Brown.

Once we had finished our conversation, we went outside to the member’s garden and had our photo taken with Glenda and Amira took a selfie with her! We then left Portcullis house and got back on the tube to see the poppies outside the tower of London where we sat and ate our lunch. Then we got the train home.

This was an absolute honour to meet Glenda Jackson and discuss our issues with the support network of mental health, and explain our new plans for future improvements. And all in all, it was a very positive, enjoyable day.

Amber and Sophia meet Jeremy Corbyn MP

Amber-SophiaAmber and Sophia

On the November 3rd, we were invited to Portcullis House to discuss our campaign on Making Mental Health Awareness compulsory on the National Curriculum with the Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.

Sophia, having suffered from Anorexia Nervosa in the past, alongside Amber who had to learn how to deal both with Sophia’s illness and her personal despair at the situation, wanted to hear his opinions on what we can do to change “ the Dark Ages of Mental Health”.

Although we had already spoken with a number of MPs and given speeches both on BBC radio and Channel 4 News in addition to the House of Lords, this meeting was equally valuable in pushing our campaign further. We learnt more on what we can do on the political side of our campaign to promote the cause, such as creating an Early Day Motion in order to raise awareness within parliament on what we are trying to do.

Moreover, during a casual discussion on our University applications, the topic of stress at top universities arose and the number of stress-related mental health problems that often proceed as a consequence. This made us even more determined to promote education on mental health awareness so we can enable young people to become resilient and also prepared for the every-day stresses that will arise during adolescent years. We also discussed how more funding is required in Mental Health Services, as many are not fortunate enough to either be near NHS services or be able to fund the cost of private treatment. The conversation we had was not only thought provoking but gave us plenty of ideas to work on for the future.

If you would like to support our campaign please click on this link and sign our petition!( Or if you would like to know what you can do to get involved, please don’t hesitate to contact us on either of these two email addresses: or

Thank you so much to the Centre for Mental Health for this opportunity to meet Mr Corbyn and thank you to the man himself, for inspiring us to continue in our pursuit of good mental health. As Gordon Smith once said: “We take our kids for physical vaccinations, dental exams, eye check-ups. When do we think to take our son or daughter for a mental health check-up?”


Jeremy Corbyn MPjeremy_corbyn

I always enjoy meeting students, and meeting Amber and Sophia from Highgate Wood only confirmed this.

These two very interesting students from Highgate Wood School visited me at the House of Commons as part of Parliament Week. It was a memorable visit and the students also spent some time talking to my assistant about the tools of parliament including EDMs and Parliamentary Questions. It was immediately obvious from the outset that Sophia and Amber are clearly two very impressive individuals with a mission to enlighten us all to the fact that Mental Health can affect any one of us and importantly, that we can, and do recover from it in its many guises. Their ‘Stop It Before It Starts’ campaign was particularly commendable and highlights the importance of providing better support to young people at schools regarding mental health.

Hopefully these young women went away better informed on the workings of parliament than when they arrived. It is also quite significant that their friendship, and Amber’s concern for Sophia when she was suffering very badly with Anorexia Nervosa brought them to a better understanding of mental illness, and indeed the determination to learn more about solutions and treatments and what part the political process plays in such things. There is still so much to do around mental illness, and there is much stigma associated with it, often stemming from ignorance. Eating disorders in particular often bring a lot of shame to the sufferer and it is time this needs to be dispelled before we can begin to progress. We must keep our NHS safe and buoyant, and ensure that this very important area gets the priority it deserves in the process.

Parliament Week

alec_williamsParliament Week (14-20 November) is an annual programme of events that aims to connect people with parliamentary democracy in the UK. This year, Parliament Week has set up a campaign called ‘Do Democracy’ which focuses on young people and their engagement in politics. In keeping with this theme, the Centre for Mental Health set up a project centred on the exciting opportunity for young people to meet with MPs to discuss mental health.

The MPs and the young people met on the 3rd and 4th of November at Portcullis House, London and were then asked to reflect on this experience in a blog which we will release on each day of Parliament Week.

The meetings were between:

1. Amber, Sophia and Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn. Amber and Sophia are two young people (17) attending Highgate School. Sophia suffered from Anorexia Nervosa and Amber, her best friend, felt disheartened by the lack of support she could offer due to her lack of knowledge regarding the issue. Over the past 18 months they have set up and campaigned for ‘Stop It Before It Starts’ – a campaign that aims to have Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing placed on to the National Curriculum. Please find their petition at:

2. Yara Al-Tuhafi and Conservative MP James Morris. Yara is a young person (18) from South London. Yara is associated with the Who Cares Trust – an organisation that supports young people in care. Yara has had long-standing interest in mental health due to her own life experiences and is especially interested in the stigma associated with mental health.

3. Frankie Hopkins, Amira Nandhla and Labour MP Glenda Jackson. Frankie (16) and Amira (13) are two young people from Gloucestershire associated with Action for Children. Frankie and Amira both have personal experiences of mental health issues and have long been interested in how young people could get better mental health support – they were very keen to discuss this with Glenda.

This project provided a brilliant opportunity for young people to have their voices heard and hopefully the blogs will provide inspiration for more young people to continue the conversation about mental health – we hope you enjoy reading them!

Alec Williams

A louder voice for mental health


By Andy Bell


This week, five MPs have marked Parliament Week by writing blogs for Centre for Mental Health on the importance of a range of mental health issues in their constituencies. The five MPs come from three different political parties and from different parts of the country. They are united, however, by a common understanding of the importance of mental health in their constituencies and the need for greater attention both locally and nationally to the needs of people living with a mental health condition.

A few years ago, it was a rare occurrence indeed for mental health issues to be talked about in parliament. Few members of parliament felt compelled to champion mental health issues or raise concerns about the needs of people with mental health problems. When mental health issues did receive political attention, it was often only because of concerns about risk and violence that often exacerbated stigma rather than reducing it.

In the last two years, by contrast, mental health has been debated in parliament on numerous occasions, on a range of different topics. Some MPs have talked about their own experiences of mental ill health for the very first time. And last year parliament legislated to outlaw the last vestiges of discriminatory legislation against people with mental health problems such as the bar on jury service or sitting as an MP.

This begs two important questions. Why has this dramatic change happened? And what difference will it make to people’s lives?

The reasons for this change are many and varied. The Time to Change anti-stigma campaign and the willingness of people such as Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax and Alastair Campbell to talk about their experiences of mental ill health have created a new openness that did not exist even five years ago. More MPs are also now telling us that mental health issues are prominent in their constituency surgeries and the letters they receive – that more people are talking to them about mental health concerns and seeking support for their causes. A combination of encouragement and pressure from constituents to engage more positively with any issue can greatly enhance its importance to MPs.

The difference it will make is harder still to gauge. But signs of progress are evident. With more MPs talking about mental health and championing specific mental health issues, ministers and shadow ministers are raising their game on mental health, too. The government’s commitment to ‘parity of esteem’ for mental health has been made far easier by the universal support it receives from Westminster and this is beginning to change the way policy is made.

Too often, mental health has been an afterthought for policymakers – now it is very clearly being considered when policy is made, and not just in health but in other areas that affect people with mental health conditions. We have a long way to go before we can say with certainty that mental health issues are getting the consideration they deserve from across government and public services, but we are making progress.

And we are also beginning to see mental health issues growing in their prominence in local politics. A growing number of councils now have member champions for mental health through the mental health challenge. Some have used their new public health responsibilities to develop local mental health strategies that seek to improve wellbeing for all and to support people with mental health conditions more effectively. And it is local people talking about mental health issues to councillors that has provided the biggest impetus behind this increased interest in what councils can do to help make their lives better.

The blogs we have published this Parliament Week show how far we have come in raising the political profile of mental health. We know there is much more to do to translate this attention into action that will make a difference to people’s lives. But by building on the support we have and by encouraging MPs, councillors and other in elected office to take mental health issues seriously we can ensure that the voices of people who live with mental ill health are always heard, never ignored and consistently heeded.

Andy Bell is deputy chief executive at Centre for Mental Health.

Follow Andy on Twitter @Andy__Bell__

Practical tips for talking to your MP about mental health

largelogoBy Helena Brice

helenaWe have had many MPs write for our blog during Parliament Week. Hopefully they have highlighted some of the reasons why it is important for constituents to speak to them about mental health. They have to me and below are the reasons why I think it is important.

Your local MP is the person you (maybe not you personally) but your community, has elected to represent you/them in parliament. They must make adequate provision to listen to your views and so by speaking to them, you can help them to understand why they should represent your views. The more people that speak to MPs the more representative they can be in parliament. Any legislation that the government wants to pass or repeal, MPs must vote on – sometimes they have to follow the party line but other times they don’t. If your MP is to make the most informed decision when voting they need to know how the legislation is going to affect/is affecting their constituents. As Kate Green highlighted in her blog the welfare reforms have had major impacts on people with mental health problems and she knows this first hand as her constituents have been to speak to her. Paul Burstow also demonstrated how a lady came to see him and talk about mental health spurred him on to take action.It goes to show that just by one person raising the issue your MP can take it up.

Debates and parliamentary questions
Along with representing you as a constituent, your MP is there to hold the government to account. As a constituent you are able to ask your MP to ask a question in parliament. Many MPs ask questions on mental health and this is normally spurred on by actions taking place locally. The government may not be able to take action locally but by getting your MP to ask a question it raises the profile of your local problem and brings it to the attention of charities like us who we regularly look at what questions are being asked in parliament. Parliamentary questions can also help highlight where the government is or is not taking action and can highlight the lack of data being collected by central government. If we are to hold the government to account and advocate for changes to and improvements in policy we need to have data. MPs can also table debates in the house, Nicky Morgan along with Charles Walker held a debate on mental health last year and for the first time many MPs spoke openly about their own personal issues with mental health, or even put through private members bill or ten minute rule bill. These can help raise issues nationally and can all be as a result of constituents getting in touch with their MP.

Turning policy into reality
By talking to your MP you are:
1. Putting a personal story to the changes.
2. Showing the realities of the policies.

By talking to your MP about mental health and inspiring them to talking about it on a national stage and local stage you can help to further destigmatise mental health and show that anyone can be affected by it. Click here if you would like to find our who your MP.

MPs normally hold surgeries on a weekly basis: this is where you are able to meet your local MP to discuss matters. MPs normally advertise their surgeries in the local press and sometimes in the library. You can also book an appointment to see your MP at the houses of parliament.

Helena Brice is policy officer at Centre for Mental Health.

Follow Helena on twitter @hel_b

Talking to your MP on your terms

largelogoBy Jon Ashworth MP

Since March this year I have become a local ‘champion’ for mental health. As a local champion I have raised issues brought to me by service users, their carers and the local voluntary sector agencies. I have raised issues with Leicester City Council, the clinical commissioning group (CCG) and the main statutory provider of services in the area.

At a mental health summit I hosted earlier this year, I publicly made the commitment to be a local champion. This summit was attended by key stakeholders in the city – from senior figures in the police and health services, to city council officers and voluntary sector agencies. I got key city agencies to also make commitments or pledges to improve the services delivered, and these pledges will be reported on at a second summit to be held next year.

But what I have always done, even before becoming a local champion, is to listen to service users and their carers. I’ve visited services to meet staff and service users, and I’ve hosted two listening events to hear directly what people think of them. Hearing from people who use the services, knowing what they think and learning about how they can be improved locally – all of these are key when looking at mental health services.

As well as these organised listening events, later this month my office will start holding monthly advice sessions at a local voluntary sector provider, Network for Change. My aim is to make it easier for people with mental health issues to access their MP. By holding sessions at Network, hopefully this will happen – people will not have to come into the city centre, and instead of having a formal meeting in an unfamiliar office, they can speak freely in surroundings that they’re already comfortable in.

Raising awareness of mental health issues will be an on-going part of my job as an MP, but it is a vital part – especially at a time when the health service and local providers of services are under increasing financial pressure.

 Jon Ashworth is MP for Leicester South