Three months after she announced she would be taking a leave of absence from work to look after her mental health, Labour MP Nadia Whittome has returned to parliament – and spoken out about the challenges many in her position still face.
The Labour MP – who became the UK’s youngest MP in 2019 when she was elected to represent Nottingham East at the age of 23 – posted a video on social media last night expressing her gratitude for the support she’s received over the last three months and highlighting the challenges many people in her position still face.
“I’ve returned from my leave of absence and I’m now back to work. I’m making a good recovery, I feel well, I’m excited to be back representing the people of Nottingham East in Parliament,” she began.
“So many people took the time to wish me well, and I felt really moved and encouraged by your kindness, whether it was people stopping me in the streets, or the many messages that I received from people around the country, who have also experienced PTSD, or have needed time off work due to mental ill health.”
Whittome continued: “I was glad to hear that my decision to be open about my diagnosis could in some small way help other people to be open about theirs. But awareness alone is not enough.
“I was privileged to be able to take time off work to get better, but that should be a right for everyone, not a privilege. Far too many people can’t, because they’re in precarious jobs, with bosses who just don’t get it, or statutory sick pay that doesn’t pay the bills.”
She concluded: “We need full sick pay, wages people can live on in the first place, and stronger workers’ rights, so that everyone who needs to take time off work can. And that is what I’ll be fighting for now I’m back.”
Elsewhere, in an interview with The Guardian, Whittome also highlighted the challenges she faced in seeking treatment for her PTSD (she was forced to go private after her GP warned that waiting lists ran to many months) – another experience which is not an isolated one.
“It just highlighted everything that needs to change; everybody should have access to the best treatment for whatever the condition is, and be able to access it quickly,” she said. “I know from the casework how many people are waiting months, years even.”
While it’s great to see that Whittome was able to take time away from work and access the treatment she needed to recover, her words highlight just how rare a situation her experience was, and just how urgently things need to change.
Taking time off work for a physical health problem wouldn’t be frowned upon, so why should mental ill health be treated any differently?