Politicians face a much greater risk of developing a mental health problem than the public, research suggests.
A study found MPs are 26 per cent more likely to report feeling depressed, worthless or stressed than the average Briton.
Experts have blamed this on everything from their hectic work schedules and job insecurity to cyber bullying and even a fear of being stalked.
Researchers now want to remind people ‘politicians are human and do an incredibly difficult job’.
It is therefore ‘crucial’ they are supported during ‘stressful times’, the team at King’s College London said.
Politicians are over a quarter more likely to suffer from mental health problems (stock)
The study was co-led by Nicole Votruba, a researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry and the Conservative MP Dan Poulter.
Ms Votruba said: ‘The extent of stigma among MPs, which our results indicate, is startling and seems out of step with increasing public awareness of mental health.’
Dr Poulter added: ‘This is the first study of its kind to start to evaluate the mental health and wellbeing of UK parliamentarians.
‘It suggests a high level of mental distress among MPs and raises important issues about how we can better support the people making and scrutinising the laws that run our country, who experience poor mental health.’
All 650 members of the House of Commons were asked to complete an anonymous survey on their mental health in 2016.
This was compared against the results of the 2014 Health Survey, where 7,871 people from across England completed the same questionnaire.
The survey asked questions like to what extent the participants were struggling to concentrate, sleep or enjoy day-to-day activities.
Scores were grouped, with those coming in at four or more suggesting ‘probable psychological disturbance or mental ill health’.
Of the 146 MPs (22.4 per cent) who responded, 34 per cent (49) reported a score of at least four.
This is compared to the 26 per cent (2,902) who took part in the Health Survey, the results published in the British Medical Journal Open showed.
The MPs scored worse on concentration, losing sleep due to worry, feeling useless, struggling to cope and being under constant strain.
Compared to the public, the politicians also struggled to overcome difficulties, enjoy day-to-day activities and face up to their problems.
And they were more likely to report low confidence, depression and worthlessness, the research found.
WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
While it is normal to feel down from time to time, people with depression may feel persistently unhappy for weeks or months on end.
Depression can affect anyone at any age and is fairly common – approximately one in ten people are likely to experience it at some point in their life.
Depression is a genuine health condition which people cannot just ignore or ‘snap out of it’.
Symptoms and effects vary, but can include constantly feeling upset or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.
It can also cause physical symptoms such as problems sleeping, tiredness, having a low appetite or sex drive, and even feeling physical pain.
In extreme cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.
It is important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know has depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy or medication.
Source: NHS Choices
Previous studies into Parliamentary working hours suggests MPs take on ‘high levels of physical and emotional stress’.
This may be made worse by ‘additional work roles, extensive travel and job insecurity’, the researchers wrote.
Their hectic schedules may also make it difficult for MPs to access mental health support on the NHS.
One study even found MPs are more at risk of ‘stalking, harassment and intrusive or aggressive behaviours’ than the general public.
Overtime, these intimidating experiences could affect an MP’s mental health, the researchers state.
Louise Rubin, parliamentary manager at the charity Mind, told MailOnline: ‘It is worrying to hear stories of MPs experiencing depression, unhappiness and poor mental health.
‘We must not forget politicians are human and do an incredibly difficult job.
‘It is therefore crucial that during this stressful times that they are able to access the right mental health support.’
While poor mental-health seems to be relatively common among MPs, more than three quarters (77 per cent) of those surveyed were unaware support was available in Parliament.
This is despite a confidential in-house programme, called the Parliamentary Health and Wellbeing Service, being open to all MPs.
And more than half of those surveyed (52 per cent) would not feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their ‘Whips’.
Whips are appointed officials who organise a party’s parliamentary business and ‘ensure discipline among MPs’.
‘In an ever more hostile media environment, poor mental health can be regarded as a factor limiting politicians in their capacities,’ the researchers wrote.
‘Stigma and self-stigma about mental health appears to remain a powerful barrier to seeking help and support among Members of the UK House of Commons.’
The researchers worry more MPs may suffer from mental health issues than their study suggests, with stigma putting many off taking part.
This is despite Kjell Magne Bondevik, the former Prime Minister of Norway, receiving public sympathy when he disclosed his struggles while leading the Scandinavian country in 1998.
Four British MPs also disclosed their own mental health issues during a House of Commons debate on the subject in 2012.
Future studies should identify the key issues affecting politicians, whether it be stalking, cyber bullying or alcohol abuse, they added.