Let's Destroy The Stigma Around Mental Health
A topic very close to my heart, and one I feel passionate about is mental health. As a worker in the healthcare sector, I have seen impaired mental well-being with my own eyes and feel strongly that we need to encourage those who are suffering to speak out about it. This is where I feel the government can play a vital role. It is why, in many ways, they are an important link in the chain of destroying the stigma associated with mental health.
Mental health has been a topic of significant interest over the last few decades, with increasing research attempts into finding earlier diagnoses, establishing causality more accurately, and improving treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) have defined mental health as a ‘state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’ Furthermore, the importance of mental health has been highlighted through its inclusion in the WHO definition of overall health. Overall health is determined, it states, by a balance between physical, social and mental well-being.
The problem is that in today’s world, people are often afraid to speak out about how they are feeling and therefore many suffer symptoms of, for example, depression and anxiety in silence. In the past few years, there have been numerous excellent strategies implemented that aimed to target the stigma associated with mental health. It is now time to destroy that stigma forever and the government have an important role to play in this.
Before suggesting changes to target the issue, it is important to acknowledge the considerable burden that mental health problems places on people in the UK and worldwide. The ‘Mind’ charity found that an estimated 1 in 4 people will have a mental health problem annually in the UK every year, with 1 in 6 people in England reportedly experiencing a common mental health problem each week. What is somewhat promising is that there has been no significant increase in the number of people that experience mental health problems in recent years, but stress factors such as financial concerns and job opportunities, especially in the current socio-economic climate, are regularly cited as exacerbating the stresses felt by those with problems.
More recently, a study published in the British Medical Journal investigated mental health conditions among GPs in England and Wales. The survey-based research study found that 40% of GPs had suffered from a mental health issue, whilst only 79% would seek support from their own GP. Dr Zoe Neill, a GP diagnosed with several mental health conditions whilst practicing, stated that though these problems are extremely common in GP they are rarely disclosed due to the considerable stigma surrounding the competence of professionals with mental health issues.
So what has the government’s approach been to tackling these issues? The Conservatives’ manifesto, published under Theresa May’s leadership, made three key promises in relation to mental health. (1) To tackle discrimination and the overuse of detention, (2) To protect those that experience discrimination at work and (3) To have an extra 10,000 NHS mental health staff by the year 2020. Furthermore, by 2020 the government has vouched to increase mental health funding by £1.4 billion.
Theresa May also recently announced a new plan to reduce homelessness, involving the funneling of £30 million into mental health treatment and training for staff involved in the delivery of care. In addition, an article by ‘Mental Health Today’ revealed that May’s two years as Prime Minister have seen a 4% real term increase in spending for mental health. However, what is concerning is that both the Health and Social Care and the Education select committees in the Commons have released a joint report detailing how the plans for mental health transformation within the NHS will take too long to take effect. Conservative chair Rob Halfon has said that ‘This strategy does not go far enough, which raises the very real prospect of hundreds of thousands of children missing out on getting the help they so desperately need.’
Indeed, there are still many very pressing flaws in the current system. For example, improving waiting times for counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) should be a key area for the government to towards. The British Medical Association (BMA) found that many people experiencing negative thoughts or feelings are having to wait an excess of six months for psychological ‘talking therapies’. In fact, waiting times in some parts of the UK have been in an excess of one year. Grass-roots awareness campaigns such as the early education of children about the realities of mental health are also vitally important, as is the implementation of programmes aimed at teaching others how they can begin to talk with people who are suffering. These programmes also address the fact that breaking down the social stigma must be a collective effort between the wider community and the individual.
To conclude, impaired mental health has undoubtedly impacted the lives of thousands of people across the UK and continues to do so today. Therefore, it is vital that the social and governmental response be commensurate to the scale of the problem. Despite the many applaudable efforts by the current and previous governments to tackle the issue and destroy the stigma, it tragically remains a matter of pressing concern. By nature, this isn’t an issue which can be solved overnight, nor one that can ever be solved in its entirety.
However, with collaborative approaches from both the greater public and the government, it is possible that one day everyone will feel comfortable in speaking out about their mental well-being, the way we so commonly do about our physical health. It is important for everyone to remember that nobody is alone in the journey – that it is OK not to be OK.