In the UK it’s clear to anyone who dares to look at the stats that we have a mental health crisis. But why and what can we do about it?
It’s not as difficult as you might think?
Mental health awareness week is now over, and seemingly normal service has resumed. The rolling boil of social media content and mass media coverage has fizzled out into the usual dull rumble given off by the few people like me, where every week is mental health awareness week.
My hope is that in 51 weeks we’ll see ‘mental health action week’.
For over 40 years the mental health foundation has done a phenomenal job of constantly pushing the message of awareness & acceptance and has been joined along the way by the likes of Mind, Rethink, and smaller but incredibly passionate charities like My Discombobulated Brain which works tirelessly to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health.
But there is one vital component of the battle against mental illness that we seem to be missing? Action.
Being aware of something is great but without the knowledge and skills of what to do about it, are we really going to see an improvement in health and reduction in reported and diagnosed mental health disorders?
It?s safe to say that turning awareness into action isn?t simple, or quick and certainly isn?t going to be sorted by this one blog post, but even acknowledging that this is needed, is a step closer.
So, what needs doing? Well, there are 2 parts to this.
Firstly, we need to put those action steps in place:
- Show people what self-care looks like
- Give people the skills to talk and (more importantly) listen to someone who is struggling
- Show people where to turn to if they need some support
- Talk about mental health like we do physical health ? where is the 5 fruit, 10,00 steps and veg and 8 glasses of daily water TV adverts for our mental health?
I would even go so far as to say to open wellbeing drop-in centres where people can go to get help and resources for their mental, emotional, social, physical, and financial health. When I mention this idea, Im often asked “But Pete, who is going to pay for that?” well not to get too political but diverting 1% of the £205Bn from the Trident nuclear missile program or £37Bn from the (let’s face it) failed COVID track and trace program would get us off to a solid start.
In society, we prioritize our physical health over our mental health but the two are intrinsically linked, often in ways that you would never think. Such as experiencing back or neck pain, migraines, or numbness in the limbs because of poor mental health.
This brings us to the second part of the how.
It seems that when it comes to our physical health, getting some help is much easier than with our mental health, but why?
- Wait times – The NHS mental health services are filled with amazing, hard-working, and incredibly caring staff but it?s woefully underfunded and under-resourced, leading to wait times of 12 months or even longer before a person actually received therapeutic support.
- Not being able to access the support – For people who live in a remote area or a single parent with a full-time job, accessing the support services just isn’t practical
- Primary care support – For the non-clinical folk out there, primary care is basically a posh way of saying the frontline services like GP’s, dental, and pharmacies. Specifically, here we’re talking about GP’s who often have minimal training in mental health disorders and even less time to speak to patients about their concerns. Couple this with the wait times mentioned above and what we see is anti-depressants being over-prescribed followed by a whole lot of nothing. Because the system simply is under-equipped
- Worrying about the outcome – As someone who has had THAT chat with their doctor about their mental health, I know just how hard it can be. And this is one of the reasons we still need mental health awareness. Because people often make assumptions about what will happen if they do open up, both in a medical sense and within work, family, and social circles and it’s the stigma that drives this.
Let’s not sugar-coat it, the task we have at hand here is huge and daunting. I have barely scratched the service in what has turned out to be a pretty long blog post here. Also much more needs to be done by the policymakers and government. But that doesn’t mean we can’t start to tackle the problem as individuals.
- To start teaching ourselves about self-care and wellbeing
- To learn how to have difficult conversations and what ?active listening? is
- To learn about the resources available for support
- To make time for you, even 10 minutes a day focused on our wellbeing makes a huge difference.
And this is where I come in. As someone who has been in the world of mental health for over a decade now, not only lived through severe mental illness (PTSD & Depression in my case) but also supported hundreds of others with everything from stress to directly preventing suicides it’s safe to say I know this world well.
I’m incredibly lucky that I get to bring this experience into what I do and show individuals and organisations the what, how, when, where, and why of mental health support. If you would like to be the person who starts making that difference that could not only change your life but potentially save the life of another then get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org