Don't Say Sorry, Charlotte: Why Parliament Is a Textbook Neuropsychological Nightmare for any MP

01/05/2014 16:43 BST | Updated 30/06/2014 10:59 BST

Charlotte Leslie was recently rebuked for failing to record donations to the local Party in the Register of Members' Interests. But she didn't profit from those donations and they'd already been registered with the Electoral Commission, so the process comprised a small compliance-type task. And to put Charlotte's 'crime' in its rightful (and wholly banal) perspective, it is perfectly common for City executives to be chased by compliance staff over transaction paperwork. But in the Square Mile's case it is not considered newsworthy.

As Charlotte says herself, there's a very good reason for the delay and that's because she suffers from dyslexia, which makes reading paperwork difficult. But as a qualified coach, I believe the fact that Charlotte was prepared to put off the paperwork is a sign of her EXCELLENT sense of priority, NOT a sign of poor personal performance. However, Charlotte has requested and been granted extra administrative help. But I believe that only a drastic change in Parliament's operating structure and at least a doubling of support staff would be enough to provide the necessary resources for MPs across the board. You see in an environment of such APPALLING systems and under-staffing, MPs are exposed to chronic stress, which will impair performance and have a knock-on effect on the entire governance of this country.

However, our cultural disregard for MP health and safety, along with the wide variation in the way in which stress manifests, are key to its poor detection and thus its insidious effects on the Country. In fact, I would guess there are probably as many variations in the behavioural manifestations of stress as there are personalities. For instance, on the one hand stress can impair working memory or deplete energy levels. But on the other, it may manifest in hyperactivity or 'robot-like' states that may appear healthy and productive, but are in fact no less destructive. Chronic stress can also descend into severe depression.

The complex and ever-changing interplay of brain chemicals provides a perfect camouflage for the symptoms of stress and depression. For instance, the brain will adjust its chemistry to increase focus when interest or fear is aroused. Therefore, mental strain can be masked for very long periods of time because the sufferer may be perceived as selectively lazy, uncaring, uninterested or even incompetent. To give some hypothetical examples of this 'performance cycling', you may find one MP glazing over during surgeries, but who plans and executes groundbreaking projects with great vigour. Another may find constituents' enquiries absorbing, but is given to falling asleep during important debates. Yet another plays a pivotal role in the management of the economy, but drives colleagues berserk with disorganisation and tardiness. There will also be additional fluctuations of mood and performance based on the quality of diet and rest. And it is possible that the effects of stress on MP performance increase by the year as the state of 'familiarity breeds contempt' gradually sets in, which naturally diminishes the intensity of feelings of fear and interest within the environment in which it arises.

Stress or depression may also cause some MPs to 'crash' during their time off thus eliminating any meaningful personal life. Others living consistently in 'robot mode' may find they are unable to unwind at home which results in further overwork and fractured personal relationships. And in such an environment of high achievers, this inability to shift attention from goals may be perceived as commitment, but is actually mindless neurological compliance. And this poses the risk of MPs losing sight of priorities overtaking the object of their fixation. And this is surely one of the reasons why great leaders may suffer from tunnel vision or be perceived as losing their heads during a crisis. Furthermore and rather frighteningly, an extremely stressed state of mind can manufacture all manner of artificial feelings to justify behavior and thus I would imagine the effects on judgment could be as bad as the effects of intoxication. For instance extreme irritability is a symptom of both stress and depression, so the risk of bullying could be very high.

In Charlotte's case and based on what one reads of her excellent academic record, athletic ability and balanced lifestyle, she appears to have good general mental health. However, the fact she suffers from a learning disability and works in a stressful environment makes it wise for her to delay non-urgent but important tasks till they can be undertaken accurately and do not become inordinately time-consuming. And that good sense of priority shouldn't just apply to those with learning disabilities but to any MP who feels run ragged. However, our culture of publicly crucifying MPs over the tiniest slip means that important tasks may get rushed and grave mistakes made. And that's why individuals who suffer from a disability or chronic illness often make great employees because they're sensitive to their own and others' stress levels and thus they've learned to prioritise and push back to a superb standard. Therefore, their productivity and accuracy often surpasses others who perceive themselves as 'normal'.

Finally, for clarity I have referred to dyslexia as a learning disability. However, my personal view is that dyslexia is quite simply an alternative thinking style and that society's system is the REAL learning disability - a fact which I believe is evident in its negligence towards MPs.