Mental health charities, politicians, and campaigners praise the Nottingham Labour rep’s openness around her PTSD and decision to take leave
Yesterday (May 25), Nadia Whittome, the UK’s youngest MP, announced that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and would be taking a break from work over the coming weeks.
In a statement shared on Twitter, the Labour MP for Nottingham East said: “Over recent months, I have been battling some persistent health issues. Until now, I have been attempting to manage them alongside continuing with my full time work as an MP. Unfortunately, it has become clear that this is not feasible, and I have been advised by my doctor that I need to take several weeks off in order for my health to improve.”
Whittome said she felt it was “important for me to be honest that it is mental ill health I am suffering from”, adding that she hopes “being open about my own mental struggle” will help remove “shame and stigma” and help others “feel able to talk about theirs”.
Responding to the news, Jeremy Corbyn described Whittome as “a bold and brave young woman in politics” and said he was proud of the young MP. “By being honest about looking after her mental health, she helps all those who are struggling,” he continued.
As reported by BBC News, Labour leader Keir Starmer wished Whittome “all the best” and praised her “bravery” for speaking out about her struggles.
“Anyone can experience a mental health problem and PTSD can be a result of a range of traumatic experiences,” Emma Mamo, the head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, tells Dazed. “It’s helpful when high profile people talk about their mental health because it normalises mental health problems, which one in four of us will experience in any given year, and evidence shows it encourages others experiencing poor mental health to seek help.”
Speaking about why it’s important to take time off when you’re struggling, Mamo adds: “Not only is it crucial for the person experiencing poor mental health to have a break to help them to get better, it also makes sense for workplaces. Deloitte estimates that poor mental health costs UK employers over £40 billion a year in part because of ‘presenteeism’ – where employees come in even when they’re unwell and are less productive.”
While Whittome’s mental health issues may be unrelated to her work, young female politicians have previously spoken out about the toxic behaviour and sexist bullying they face while working in parliament. Speaking to Dazed in February last year, Apsana Begum, the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, said the abuse “has been quite horrendous, and quite personalised in terms of attacks”.
Zarah Sultana, Coventry South’s Labour MP, added: “I’d be a liar if I said it didn’t impact me. You have moments where you question your self-worth. I can find myself upset and hurt – I’ve definitely cried sometimes.”
I'm so proud of @NadiaWhittomeMP - a bold & brave young woman in politics. By being honest about looking after her #MentalHealth she helps all those who are struggling. As a former care worker & hate crime specialist she has experienced so much. Now is the time to #StandWithNadia— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) May 25, 2021
Although mental health issues are more widely talked about than they once were, there is still a stigma and lack of understanding, particularly in the workplace. For those in need of support or a break, Mamo advises to be open with your manager. “Ideally, your manager or supervisor would create a space for you to talk about any issues you’re facing – personal or professional – by regularly checking in with you,” she says. “If your manager doesn’t create the space for you to be able to talk about wellbeing, it can be more difficult to start this dialogue.”
“If you have a good relationship and trust them, you could meet them one to one to discuss what’s going on,” she continues. “Having someone from HR present will make the meeting more formal, and normally wouldn’t be necessary in the first instance. But if you didn’t get anywhere with the first meeting then it might be a sensible next step.”
Read Dazed’s feature about young female politicians fighting harassment here.