Sometimes it is incumbent upon MPs to talk about issues that others do not necessarily feel comfortable about, to break down barriers and stigma, and this has been a week of those opportunities. On Wednesday morning I took part in an online suicide prevention course, hosted by the Zero Suicide Alliance. There was a great deal of discussion about understanding and how we can change the language used around suicide to reduce the stigma.
Last week in the Select Committee we heard from the Minister for Mental Health about the work the Government is doing to reduce suicides, and to identify those most at risk and find the best ways to support them. I am very conscious that the pandemic and lockdown has had a significant impact on people’s mental health, but the Minister was quick to assert that suicide rates have not increased over the last year.
The other area of stigma I wanted to comment on in this column is HIV testing. Many have watched the brilliant C4 drama recently, It’s a Sin, which managed to take me right back to the 1980s, and I discovered a great deal about the way HIV and AIDS patients were treated in those dark days. There are still far too few women coming forward for HIV testing, and whilst infection rates are dropping across the population they are dropping more slowly in women than in men. So this week I took a postal HIV test, which was quick, free, easy and negative. But it is thought there are roughly 6000 people in the UK living with undiagnosed HIV and every single test taken is another step forward to eradicating HIV by 2030, which is the goal.
In Parliament this week I asked a question on behalf of all the university students who have been in touch with regard to the quality of education they have received since the start of the pandemic. There is a general sense that they have not received adequate on line support, and I spoke to one student this week who has not had a single online tutorial or lecture since term began back in the Autumn. That is just not good enough.