Ken Livingstone has shown the darkest side of politics. His comments regarding member of parliament Kevan Jones being ‘disturbed’ and in need of ‘psychiatric help’ highlighted a belief that there is apparently no limit to political point-scoring. Even, it seems, if that means mocking and ridiculing thousands of people across the United Kingdom.
Over a quarter of the population will experience a mental health problem, with anxiety and depression being the most common. Many will never speak openly, will be turned away by a failed system, and remain misunderstood. Over the last year we have seen young adults being forced back onto adult wards, spending the night in police cells due to the lack of beds, and committing suicide after being turned away by support. Mental health is one of the biggest injustices in our country; it is not a joke to protect someone’s status or ego.
Livingstone’s use of derogatory language has a much wider impact than a day’s Twitter storm. It is direct discrimination and incredibly dangerous. It would not be tolerated if it were racism, homophobia, sexism or other forms of ableism; someone’s mental health status should be seen no different. Furthermore, how do we expect people to feel comfortable about speaking openly or seeking help and advice if a public voice mocks the problem they are facing?
Jones has been a mental health role model. I know that many MPs only gained confidence in accepting a mental health problem and speaking out because of his trailblazing. Livingstone’s comments directly undermine that progress, and set back the momentum that has been celebrated around political discussion on mental health.
It is a sad that Jeremy Corbyn had to force Livingstone to apologise. Corbyn has been a proud advocate of mental health progress. From appointing a shadow minister for mental health to the shadow cabinet, to raising mental health at his first prime minister’s questions. However, now, his new appointment has laid contrast to his record. In any political party that aims to be progressive and inclusive there can be no room for such discrimination.
I was proud to see all the leadership candidates pledge their support to the Labour Campaign for Mental Health. On reflection, it was particularly great to have such a clear show of support from our new leader. He called to ‘end all stigma’ and ‘end the isolation’. However, Livingstone’s comment will do exactly the opposite.
Mental health must never be slur words, but also it must never be just buzzwords. A test of progress is to not walk past or ignore discrimination. If we are to tackle stigma, and improve the landscape of mental health in this country, then we must also take on those who express such comments; whether they knew about someone’s medical history or not.
Jack Falkingham is co-founder of Labour Campaign for Mental Health. Follow the campaign @Labour_MH
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