For me and many others in Britain, Mental Health is an incredibly personal and important topic. The fact is Mental Health is a subject that most people can say they’ve had some kind of experience with. 1 in 4 people experience Mental Health issues in Britain, so whether it’s someone you know, or something you deal with yourself, it is a topic that most can relate to in some way. It is also something that people tend to shy away from; but they really shouldn’t. Even though at this moment in time Mental Health may be considered somewhat taboo or misunderstood, talking about Mental Health requires frank and open discussion that is conducted in a friendly manner. That is the way to beat the ever present stigma.
Up until the Labour Party Conference this year however, I didn’t know what I could do as an individual to raise awareness of this issue that’s very close to my heart. That was until I found out about the Labour Campaign for Mental Health and their stall at the then upcoming Labour Conference.
This was my first conference, and so I was going to go and essentially just take in the atmosphere; until I was shown by my girlfriend that the Labour Campaign for Mental Health was advertising that it needed volunteers to help at their stall. Without thinking I jumped at the chance, volunteered and went to Liverpool ready to help in any way that I could.
When I arrived at the ACC in Liverpool on the Sunday morning, I knew I was there for a reason and I made my way to the LCMH stall. When I arrived at the stall, I was greeted by Victoria Desmond, the founder of the campaign of whom I had previously spoken to on the phone. I was also introduced to the lovely volunteers. Everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming and even though I was still aware that I was in an unfamiliar situation of which I was still trying to become comfortable with, the team genuinely felt just like that; a team.
Victoria explained to us all that the main focus of the campaign was to ‘Bring back the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health’. The position had been created in late 2015; however since the resignation of Luciana Berger the position was left unfilled. We as part of LCMH felt that this was a massive step back for the awareness of mental health and the position needed to be brought back as soon as possible.
At our conference stall we offered every person the chance to sign our petition to bring this position back. We wanted to give everyone the chance the write a personal message as to why Mental Health is important to them. As well as this, we offered the chance to have a photo in front of our wall with the names of the people on the petition as well as the personal messages. We wanted people to have their photo taken with our placard which simply read ‘Bring back the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health’. Every name, message and photo would be hand delivered to Jeremy Corbyn himself and so we wanted to make sure that we had as many names, messages and photos as we could as to apply the pressure to bring back the position.
After the first day we’d realised we had done well, however we were still determined to gain more support the next day and the following days. However, on the next day of the conference on the Monday, our campaign’s main focus would shift dramatically due to a highly unexpected event.
The Monday morning of Conference was thought of exactly like the previous day. We still needed more names for our petition, more photos for our twitter feed and more personal messages for our board. Then, at about midday all in an instant, everything changed. We were told that Jeremy Corbyn would be coming to our stall. About 30 seconds later as prophesised, Jeremy appeared along with his press team and flurry of media.
We the volunteers positioned ourselves with pride in front of our wall of petition names and personal messages, along with Jeremy. We thought we were ready for our photo opportunity, but then we decided that seeing as though everyone else had taken their photo with our placard, it would only be right that Jeremy did the same. This was to the duress of Jeremy’s press team who told him to put the placard down. Jeremy rebelled against this and simply replied that it was ok and had his photo taken with us and our placard anyway. One of the reasons I am writing this article is to explain what really happened in those fleeting moments that caused such a stir for Corbyn in what some might now refer to as ‘stall-gate’.
Within the space of about half an hour, one volunteer got his phone out and proceeded to approach us all. He simply said something along the lines of, ‘I think we’ve caused a bit of a stir’. He was right, just like that our photo had appeared among several media outlets and throughout the day, the number of outlets increased into what we have now dubbed ‘stall-gate’. Most of the media’s main points amalgamated to the main underlying theme of, ‘Jeremy has protested against himself, what is he doing?’
The following day taking from what had occurred the previous day, we changed the main focus of our campaign. Instead of ‘Bring back the Shadow Cabinet minister for Mental Health’ there were now two new aims. We now wanted the PLP to step up as well along with Jeremy, but we also wanted to thank him for what he did. To that effect, we changed our board and using the photos taken in the previous days, we simply inscribed ‘Thanks Jez’. We genuinely meant it from the bottom of our hearts, because in that moment of the photos being taken with him, not only had Jeremy committed to bringing back the Shadow Cabinet minister for Mental Health, the photo op had also inadvertently brought the topic of Mental Health to the forefront of media for a short space of time. This topic of which people tend to ‘tip-toe’ around was suddenly being debated and discussed in such a way that might not have been the case if Jeremy hadn’t brought it into the spotlight.
After ‘stall-gate’ people now wanted their photo taken with the same placard that Corbyn had held previously, and to put simply this was fantastic; because with every new person that came to our stall, we created even more awareness along with being able to learn more from each individual about their own experiences with Mental Health. For me personally this was one of if not the most rewarding parts of being a volunteer for this campaign.
When I tell people that I went to the Labour Conference in 2016 and that I volunteered and will continue to be an advocate for the Labour Campaign for Mental Health, I tell them with an incredible amount of pride. Victoria deserves the utmost praise for creating this campaign because she believes along with myself and many others within the Labour Party that Mental Health still requires much more awareness and should be brought to the forefront of British politics; which is why we need to thank Jeremy Corbyn for appointing Barbara Keeley as the new Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health & Social Care. To this end we will continue to campaign and fight on behalf of the Labour Party, as well as anyone who wants and needs more to be done about Mental Health services and awareness. Congratulations Barbara, I wish you all the best.