Doncaster mental health patient addresses Labour Party conference

Andy Hollingshurst.
Andy Hollingshurst.
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A mental health patient from Doncaster has addressed this year’s Labour Party conference.

Andy Hollinghurst, 52, who lives in Cantley, took part in a fringe event entitled Mental Health: Everything you always needed to know (but were afraid to ask), organised by mental health charity Mind.

Andy formed part of a panel of people with experience of mental health problems who answered questions from parliamentary candidates about all things related to mental health.

Andy has been chosen as one of 10 ‘Voices of Mind’ from across England and Wales to lead the charity’s campaigning work in the run up to the general election. In addition to attending the Labour party conference he will be campaigning and raising awareness of key mental health issues over the coming months to put mental health at the heart of the general election debate.

He has already featured in Mind’s general election manifesto and taken part in a filmed discussion about stigma to help raise awareness of the importance of anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, which Mind runs with charity Rethink Mental Illness. Until 2005 Andy was head teacher at a primary school but prolonged stress led to a breakdown that resulted in him losing his job. Andy spent several years battling with depression. In March 2010, he got involved with Time to Change, signing up to be a part of the Education Not Discrimination project, which aimed to raise awareness of mental health problems among health and education professionals.

Andy says: “I was given an opportunity to share my story and the feedback was tremendous. One teacher wrote how he had listened to my story and it had resonated so much with him that he had visited his GP, received treatment and had returned to teaching fit and well. Another man, a trainee doctor, wrote that he had believed that anyone with a good family with a good job had no right to be depressed but that after hearing me speak his attitude had completely changed.

“The stigma attached to mental health meant that I hid my feelings of inability to cope until I was unable to hide them any longer. We need to develop a society where we can openly discuss our inability to cope from time to time, without fear of the consequences.

“Telling my story is hard but I do it because I believe that no one should have to hide their experience of depression out of fear of recrimination. Life can be tough and challenging, it can also be wonderful and fulfilling, it’s how we deal and are supported through those challenging times that can make such a difference. I want to live in a country where poor mental health is not seen as a weakness of self but a failure of society to support people’s wellbeing and resilience.”

Louise Rubin, Parliamentary Manager at Mind, said: “Our fringe event is primarily aimed at parliamentary candidates. We want to impress upon them that all MPs have to support constituents with mental health problems on a regular basis, so it is in their interests to get to grips with the subject sooner rather than later. However we also want recognise the fact that mental health can be a confusing area to understand, and that many people do not feel comfortable discussing mental health. This event is therefore a good opportunity to have an open, frank discussion and ask the questions they always wanted to ask, without judgement.

“We hope that by the end of the event, candidates will feel able to talk a little more openly about mental health, and to recognise that it is an area that’s important to understand.”

Andy’s video about stigma can be viewed at http://www.mind.org.uk/about-us/policies-issues/in-parliament/mind-manifesto-election-2015/stigma-burst-ge2015/