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Minister praised for going public with health condition

Simon Clarke
Simon Clarke Image credit:

The chief secretary to the Treasury, Simon Clarke, publically announced last week he would not be snapped in the annual pre-budget photograph because he suffers from agoraphobia.

His comment has been welcomed by mental health campaigners congratulating Clarke for bringing awareness to the condition.

The minister said his health issue “prevents me from being comfortable in some open spaces”.

Rosie Weatherley, information content manager at the mental health charity Mind, said it was “important when public figures speak out … as it helps to tackle the stigma and lets others know they can also seek help”.

“It also demonstrates [that] with the right support and flexibility, those of us with mental health problems who can work can do our jobs just as well. That’s why employers should do what they can to support staff’s mental health.

Clarke was also praised by Mark Winstanley, chief executive or Rethink Mental Illness for “leading an example” about a condition which still has a stigma attached to it.

Jon Van Niekerk, from the general adult faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says he understood why Clarke opted out of the photoshoot.

He said: “I can see how it fits with Simon feeling anxious standing around a lot of people taking photographs at number 10.” 

Van Niekerk added those with the condition would have had a delay to their treatment through the pandemic, although the number of referrals from people diagnosed with agoraphobia has remained stable over the past few years.

“It will be interesting to see what the impact of the pandemic is in the longer term,” he said. “Agoraphobia is very treatable and there is a lot of help out there.”

Agoraphobia is twice as common in women as men.