MP Nadia Whittome & PTSD: why stepping back is imperative to survival & recovery from mental illness
Updated: Jan 29
There was an interesting story in the press recently involving a Labour MP who has decided to ‘step back’ from her work because she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Nadia Whittome said she has been advised by her doctor to take several weeks off in order to get better, and I think she’s doing exactly the right thing.
Taking a break when you are suffering from an episode of mental illness is still very hard to do because the lack of understanding and empathy that you still receive from others makes you feel so ashamed of doing so.
Somehow, it’s not ok for the brain to have an illness even though everyone accepts problems that are associated with physical illnesses – it’s such a ridiculous situation but unfortunately, it’s still a really big issue.
Ms Whittome who is the Nottingham East MP obviously feels the shame and stigma that goes with taking a break because she was quoted as saying that the decision was "incredibly difficult" and one she feels "very sad" about.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is described as an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.
Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event and may have problems sleeping, recurring nightmares, and find concentrating difficult.
PTSD can develop straight after someone experiences a disturbing event, or it can occur weeks, months or years later.
It is thought to affect about one in every three people who have a traumatic experience.
A lack of understanding and education
It’s little wonder that people feel awkward about admitting a problem with mental illness when the public and press are often so vile and hurtful about it.
What it really comes down to is a lack of education and understanding which will hopefully ameliorate over the coming decade.
Unfortunately, the confusion and misunderstanding around these illnesses creates a very damaging effect on those who suffer from them.
In the case of PTSD, it still has a military legacy which haunts it meaning that people only associate the condition with war veterans.
This means that some of the comments to appear after Nadia whittome’s announcement have been truly despicable, most of them having the same tone, such as:
“It’s not like you were in a war, love.”
“Parliament may be daunting though nothing akin to the trenches of the First World War.”
I cannot believe that people can still be so unbelievably ignorant about mental illness and sadly these horrible comments only make sufferers even less likely to open up about having a problem.
Having been so frank and honest about having a mental illness, I often forget about the wilful ignorance from others and the rifeness of the stigma, but it just makes me even more determined to share my experiences to educate the ignoramuses.
Battling the stigma
This story is a reminder to us all about the stigma and misunderstanding that still surrounds mental illness and the desperate need for mental health education.
I don’t really like using the term ‘brave’ when it comes to describing people who choose to be open about their mental health battles because I think it sends the wrong message to those who are contemplating being open themselves.
I don’t want people to think that you have to be ‘brave’ to be open about mental illness, yet after the reaction to Nadia Whittome, and the Naomi Osaka backlash on Monday, I am beginning to change my mind.
I do think that it’s a sign of strength if someone is prepared to openly discuss their mental health (illness), but I also see it more as essential rather than brave because I want things to be better for future generations.
This is why I have such huge respect for anyone who is prepared to stop everything and go against the opinions of others when it comes to mental health, and both Nadia and Naomi have given us a great example of the strength and courage involved in doing this this week.
Making the decision to stop
Making the decision to stop everything isn’t easy and there is always a period of anxiety that occurs when you are battling with your own mind and urging yourself to continue.
It’s so important to recognise that you need to take a step back though because stopping can literally be the difference between life and death.
What it comes down to is being the ‘expert of oneself’ and if that means stepping back from work and potentially losing opportunities then that is what you must do.
Although it was a heart-breaking decision, I had to give up my equestrian career entirely when I was ‘dying to stay alive’ with mental illness, because I knew that if I pushed myself to keep going it would almost certainly result in my death.
Unfortunately, mental health was hardly talked about twenty years ago, so I really had to go against everyone because no one even remotely understood what I was going through.
But I knew how serious it was and I did stop and sacrifice everything and eventually I did get better.
It is sadly true that you can lose almost everything to mental illness, but you will not lose your life so please don’t be afraid to stop and step back because if you don’t you are putting your life in serious jeopardy.
Thankfully not everyone attacks the sufferer when they admit to a mental health problem.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer wished Nadia "all the best" in her recovery and praised her "bravery" which was really wonderful to see.
Other people have spoken out in support too, and I do think that people are slowly getting better when it comes to attitudes surrounding mental ‘health’.
However, attitudes towards mental illness are still pretty shocking, and there is a serious lack of understanding which is why I keep hammering these posts out day after day in an attempt to educate others!
'Creating greater acceptance'
All of the mental illness survivors and warriors I know are open about it because they recognise the importance of helping to encourage and support other sufferers as well as paving the way for future generations.
I definitely feel the need to help other sufferers because I don’t want them to have to face the shame and guilt that I experienced from society on top of the brutal suffering that goes with having a mental illness.
Nadia Whittome obviously feels the same as she said in a statement last week:
"I feel it is important for me to be honest that it is mental ill-health I am suffering from - specifically post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Through being open about my own mental health struggle, I hope that others will also feel able to talk about theirs, and that I can play a small role in creating greater acceptance and facilitating healthier discussions around this issue."
Thank you Nadia for your honesty and for your consideration towards helping other sufferers!
If you would like to know more about this story, then you can find more details in an article from The Guardian which I have attached here.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,