June 24, 2014

Mental illness is not a 'weakness'

With one in four people affected by mental health problems the law of averages mean that, with over 20,000 elected Councillors in England and Wales, some of them could be experiencing some form of mental illness. Glen I would put myself in that category: I'm both a local Councillor (and have been since 2012) and I have been for many years and currently am experiencing depression.

We have had MPs Kevan Jones, Charles Walker and John Woodcock speak out about their mental health problems in an effort to break the stigma around the subject, but very few local politicians have talked about the subject. Is this because of concerns around stigma and mental health? Is there a fear that constituents (or even opponents or colleagues) may somehow have a perception that this as a sign of weakness?

But Mental Illness is not a 'weakness' or some 'personality flaw'; it’s an illness like any other. Just because your arm is not in a sling, or your leg is not in plaster, it does not make it any less of an illness. Speaking up about my own depression was a major step for me and, in part, lead to me becoming a Councillor.

My 'speaking up' helped others to seek help themselves

I had a series of personal tragedies that brought to the forefront feelings I'd struggled with for years. I went to my GP and started counseling sessions. Afterwards I felt the confidence to speak about my experience and help others that maybe going through the same thing.

I wrote a blog post for Time to Change and had a great response from others who told me how my 'speaking up' had helped them. Many of them said how they had always thought I was this confident person with such a positive attitude and that I had inspired some to seek help themselves.

I'm much more than my depression

I was now in a mind-set and position where I found myself looking for an avenue to help others. I had been politically aware for many years and, after attending a local government association event about becoming a Councillor, this seemed like a great opportunity to serve my community.

Being a Councillor can be extremely stressful especially when juggling family commitments as well as working full time. I have a responsibly to my residents who elected me but also a responsibility to my family to be healthy and be there for them. I have had to learn that depression is part of who I am, but it is not all of who I am. I'm much more than that.

Glen Chisholm serves on the local council in Ipswich and is a deputy portfolio holder for communities.

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