He fought and won an election campaign set against the most toxic atmosphere in modern political history – yet behind the mask Jonathan Gullis still has days when he wishes he was dead.
Jonathan, Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, suffered relentless bullying as a teenager, to such an extent that he used to self-harm.
At his lowest point he even mapped out a plan to take his own life in a way which would mean his family were spared the trauma of seeing his body.
Now Jonathan says he has been inspired to speak out after reading about others who have told their stories as part of StokeonTrentLive’s mental health and suicide prevention campaign.
Jonathan, a former teacher who was elected to Parliament in December, said: “I always thought that if I did share my experiences, it would be at a time when I was in a position of influence, and hopefully that would make other people feel more confident.
“I went to see a psychiatrist at the age of 14.
“I had been having a very difficult time at school. My whole identity – or my alleged identity – was attacked.
“I had held back a lot of grief over my grandmother, who passed away when I was aged eight. I had not processed it to the point that I was extremely angry at the world, I was lashing out at my peers and my family.
“Other days I was crying and self-harming. I used to cut the inside of my thigh, because then I could hide it from my parents and I could keep it hidden when I played rugby.
“Children can be cruel and I had years and years of bullying. It was name calling.
“It was every day, getting called names. I just remember I despised school, I absolutely hated it.
“At the same time, I was playing rugby with some of those same lads who were calling me names. I felt like I had to impress them. I put on this façade and played a character for so long.
“At 14, I had taken knock after knock and one day I completely lost my temper.
“My brother said something similar to what I was being called at school and I completely lost it and held a knife to him.
“My mum came in and shouted at me and I completely broke down in tears and told her how I hated what I was going through and how my identity was attacked.
“You can imagine how sorry I am to my brother to this day. To lose it so much that I reached that point of anger.”
Jonathan began speaking regularly about his difficulties to his school chaplain and then received professional help. He was taught some coping strategies, but it wasn’t until leaving school and going to university that he was able to ‘reinvent himself’.
After graduating from university, Jonathan then began a successful teaching career.
He became head of year at his school in Birmingham, responsible for the behaviour and well-being of more than 250 students.
He also became a trade union representative for NASUWT before getting into politics.
Yet he still battles with his mental health to this day.
“There are still days when I feel disconnected and a lack of energy and just down. I get very frustrated at myself,” said Jonathan.
“To meet me, you would think I am very self-confident, but it is just a mask. I’m the most insecure person. I worry about everything, whether my family are happy, whether I’m doing a good job for my constituents.
“Some days I hate myself. I hate looking in a mirror and I hate how I feel inside.
“The last time I self-harmed was in September 2019.
“My depression got really bad around 2015/16. I went on medication, but it made me feel worse.
“I kept thinking about whether I was brave enough to kill myself and how I could do it without upsetting my family. How I could do it so they didn’t see the body.
‘I hate waking up feeling trapped in my own head…’
“There are some lovely country walks where I was living before I was selected. There was a particular spot I found. I remember thinking I could telephone the police and then leave a note just saying I’m really sorry.
“It’s horrible. I hate waking up feeling trapped in my own head. It breaks my heart to say it, but sometimes I have wished I wouldn’t wake up.
“I still think that now, occasionally. But I think how my dad would feel and how it would affect my family and loved ones – I couldn’t put them through that.
“My parents are aware that I struggle, but I don’t think they are aware of how bad it is.”
A study carried out last year – before Jonathan was elected to Parliament – found that three out of four MPs suffer from poor mental health.
The analysis found that long hours, the stress and isolation of the job, coupled with constant criticism and even personal abuse on social media, meant that MPs are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than people in many other professions.
Across the UK, there were 6,507 deaths from suicide in 2018, which is a 12 per cent rise from 2017.
Three quarters of those deaths – 4,903 – were men. The statistics show that men aged between 45 and 49 are the most at risk group.
Jonathan says he loves his job as Stoke-on-Trent North MP and brushes off the abuse he sometimes receives on social media – but that he worries constantly about whether he is doing a good job.
He said: “Being an MP is isolating and there is massive pressure to deliver for my constituents.
“I love my job and the fact I have been given this opportunity. There is no-one more fearful than me of not delivering.
“I question every day whether I have done a good job. I’m terrified of being a failure because I have had so much trust put in me.
“I’m lucky that my family and loved ones are around me.
“When I get hate on social media, I try to see it as a joke. I try to see the funny side.
“It’s the comments which are not abusive which worry me more. ‘Why aren’t you focussing on this’? ‘You have not got back to me on this’.
“It’s high pressure, but I love it. I want to be the MP for this area and there’s no-one who wants to deliver more than me.
“I have fallen in love with this area and I want to make a difference so badly. I set such high standards and expectations on myself and my staff.”
Jonathan said he was inspired to speak out after reading the stories of other people who have joined StokeonTrentLive’s mental health and suicide prevention campaign.
Jonathan said: “I strive to be happy and to be a good person. I hope I am a good person.
“I’m not here to create a sob story. I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m in a job many people would love.
“Mental health is so serious. We have to have more access to services. Continuity is so important. When people find that person, the doctor or nurse they trust, it’s so important that person doesn’t leave the health service.
“That’s the challenge, to recruit and retain good people.
“I’m lucky that I have parents who are understanding and I’m lucky I went to a school where there was support.
“It terrifies me that there are those who are in a worse position than me, when you hear they are waiting months for CAMHS [Child and Adult Mental Health Services]. It’s not right.”
Jonathan added: “This is the first time I have shared this. It’s a big step for me and it is only because I have been inspired by this campaign.
“I hope someone reading this might realise that it doesn’t matter what your job is or your background, you can still be affected by mental health.
“We need to be brave enough to talk about it – because it does help to talk and to share your problems.”
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