I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect yesterday at Parliament. The invitation seemed like it was a meet and greet and I’d been invited along as a supporter / activist.

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about the word “activist” – maybe it’s a long hangover from my time in the military but the word seems to carry negative connotations. So it was useful that I received a tweet that morning from Andy Lancaster thanking me for my advocacy in the area of mental health. This was just the reframe I needed to get the most out of my day.

Before parliament I went to visit the National Archives to talk about mental health. They were an enthusiastic audience and now that I saw myself as an advocate the talk which I had been worried about became a fun and relaxing session.

At Parliament I met up with Alison Chisnell, my partner in crime for HR for MH. We filed in to the room at the appointed time and there seemed to be no-one I knew there. Actually lets rephrase that, I knew who a lot of the people were but they were the likes of Alastair Campbell and Nick Clegg so perhaps not up for a chat with me.

The Deputy PM opened the main proceedings with some well chosen words thanking the MP’s who were brave enough to speak up in the debate last year. He went on to speak of the importance of good mental health and what the government can do to change the conversation in this country. Whilst I appreciate Mr Clegg is a divisive figure for many, he spoke well and to my mind honestly.

Next we had Norman Lamb, the Minister responsible for care and support. He talked passionately about the idea of “parity of esteem” for mental health. He talked a lot of sense and there were nods of agreement for the idea of a personal health budget so that people can exercise more choice over the care they receive. Whilst I agree with the thinking behind this I would sound a note of caution. I know myself that the system and care pathways can be a confusing and baffling obstacle course so patients will need plenty of advice in order to enable informed decisions to be taken. However, broadly I am in favour of patients being partners in their own recovery rather than psychiatrists being the sole arbiter.

There was plenty of time for networking and so Alison and I (and our new found friend Karen Steadman from The Work Foundation) decided to be bold. I went and spoke to Alastair Campbell and to Marjorie Wallace the Chief Executive of Sane. I grabbed Paul Jenkins the boss of Rethink and asked him what he saw as the big learning from a recent global conference – answer, England could learn from Scotland and Australia / New Zealand about engaging better with adolescents. I also cornered Paul Farmer who leads Mind and had a natter with him resulting in me challenging him to do a bike ride which he agreed to (I’ll keep you posted). I was pleasantly surprised how approachable the public figures were and being mindful of their time I kept it brief. A good strategy to avoid them feeling cornered.

Then it was time for Sue Baker from Time to Change to speak about the success of the campaign. At this point in time their target was to have 100 companies signed up to the pledge, they are nearing 140. It’s interesting to note that whilst most industries are well represented retail seems to be lagging. However, bearing in mind recent events at Asda and Tesco I think that will change pretty soon. It was also pleasing to hear that the Bank of England had signed the pledge that morning, not least because their HR team attended our HR for MH event so Alison and I are claiming a win there.

Our final speaker was Wayne Goodwin, an Inspector with Kent Police. He spoke briefly and movingly of his own struggles and how his honesty about the challenges he faced may have been a factor in his favour at his promotion board.

Overall it was a packed and interesting few hours. Everyone who spoke was a good advocate for change, for ending stigma. It left me feeling optimistic for the future though I will note that not all MP’s who were invited did attend.

As I turned to go I saw an opportunity too good to miss and pocketed Nick Clegg’s name badge. Whilst I may be an aspiring advocate I’m not above having some fun with it. photo 1

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