Last week was National Mental Health Awareness Week in the United Kingdom.
Now let’s talk about Mental Health!
In an era of economic uncertainty with rising unemployment, never has there been a more important time to consider the topic of mental health.
Current Department of Health (DoH, 2012) statistics would indicate that mental health conditions are common and also on the increase, with 1 in 4 people being affected in any given year. These statistics are based on those who have received a clinical diagnosis, either from their General Practitioner or Specialist Mental Health Services. However, it may be fair to say many more people go undiagnosed, misdiagnosed or suffer in silence. Why may this be, when there have been so many advances in health and social care?
Firstly, consideration has to be given to the huge amount of stigma that is attached to having ‘a mental health problem’; the term itself derives from Greek meaning symbol/mark of disgrace. Historical writings would indicate that issues of stigma have been tightly woven into the fabric of mental health, and that it continues to be deeply entrenched in our individual and collective psyche. Much of this has been and continues to be fuelled in part by powerful literary, artistic as well as media representations, that very subtly shape our perceptions of mental health.
Clearly stigma is a factor that holds people back from seeking help. Furthermore, many who have received a diagnosis cite that issues relating to stigma then follows them, hindering career progress, fuelling discrimination and acting as a block to gaining employment or staying supported in a job whilst in recovery. Therefore, one of the first aims of any serious policy directive has to be centred on addressing and tackling this issue, and without this commitment, Mental Health will continue to be viewed with fear, misunderstanding and something not to be talked about.
‘No health without mental health – implementation framework’ (2012) places the issue of stigma reduction as one of its six key objectives, along with providing more positive experiences of care and support. Both objectives, if fully realised, may lead to the fulfilment of a further objective, that of more people having better mental health which again is ever more salient in the existing difficult economic climate. Similarly, a recent initiative led by two leading charities, ‘Mind’ and ‘Rethink for Mental Illness, funded by the DoH, is taking steps to tackle the above issues, with talk and action. The following link takes you to the webpage for this campaign 'Time to Change'.
This exciting programme is the largest in England to date, and hopefully will prove to be an important catalyst to facilitate meaningful and permanent change. To not only put an end to some of the negative associations we may consciously or subconsciously hold, but also provide opportunity to reframe these in a more positive light.
Finally, and most importantly, for this to become firmly embedded, it needs to continue to draw on the voices of those with lived experience of mental health to provide the synergy to deliver creative and responsive ways to raise awareness of Mental Health and eradicate stigma and discrimination.
Lucy Pursehouse, Senior Lecturer in the University's School of Health and Wellbeing. Lucy's main areas of teaching include Innovations in Mental Health and Exploring Contemporary Issues in Mental Health.