World Mental Health Day
October 10th is World Mental Health Day. It has been observed annually since 1992. It is a day dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues and promoting wellbeing. One of its aims is to try and reduce stigma and this is done through educating and raising awareness. The sad truth is though that more needs to be done.
The Numbers Shout
According to an Ipsos survey in October 2022 Mental Health now ranks 2nd among global health concerns…that’s higher than cancer! Globally, 58% of people think about Mental Health very often or fairly often. The highest percentage come from Portugal with 82% of people right down to 33% in China. When compared to how often people think about physical well being, the statistics show 70% of people globally think of physical health. Again Portugal and China are the two ends of the scale.
Going a bit further, 32 out of 34 countries rate mental and physical health as equally important and of the two that don’t think that way, they are actually more inclined to view mental health as more important. In fact, based on the surveys that were completed for Ipsos, just over three-quarters of those participating (globally) said that mental health and physical health were equally important. Only about 14 percent saw their mental health to be more important. The global numbers are quite interesting, but it’s equally interesting to see how individual attitudes vary from country to country. Each country has its own culture and attitudes towards mental health and there are some thoughts that could be drawn from this - but that’s a topic for another day.
Honing in further (globally) 34% frequently felt stressed to the point where it had an impact on their lives. 31% frequently felt stressed to the point where they cold not cope or deal with things. 27% felt depressed almost every day for a couple of weeks or more. 18% felt stressed to the point where they could not go to work for a period of time. 11% considered suicide or self-harm. Whilst the survey covers a small percentage of the global population it is quite concerning that these percentages are as high as they are.
A Wake Up Call?
With these figures shouting out at us about the severity of mental health issues, and indeed the numbers of people living with mental health conditions in the UK rising (NHS.uk), is enough being done? In the UK 23% of mental health patients have to wait twelve weeks to start treatment. 12% of cases had a wait of six months or longer and 6% had to wait more than a year. rcopsych.uk
With only one psychiatrist per 12,567 people in England it’s not surprising that long waiting times are exacerbating the situation. Whilst there are resources available for people to use to try and help themselves (these include help lines, information sheets, and websites), if a person is in a blackhole of depression where everything is a huge effort they might not even think to search for it. It may have taken a huge effort to even contact their GP in the first place. Of course, there is the option seek private help - but not everyone can afford that!
Prevention Over Cure?
The stark reality is that there is a distinct lack of funding. The government may announce £150 million for improving mental health services (June 2022) but you can’t just throw a little bit of money at it and hope the problem will go away! I have always believed in the philosophy of prevention being better than cure but is enough being done?
Primary schools may talk about mental health and help a child build resilience. They’ll use mood boards, safe spaces, talking, assembly and so on. They’ll also, perhaps, be more observant about noticing possible issues - probably because classes in primary schools tend to be smaller (there are more primary schools than secondary schools: 20,806 as opposed to 4,190 respectively).
But what happens in secondary schools, colleges, universities? Whilst there may be pastoral care available it would appear that very little is done to actually try and prevent mental health issues. PSHE classes may be taught in some schools but it’s not a statutory subject. Nor does it cover mental health. It covers drug education, financial education, sex and relationship education, and the importance of physical activity and diet for a healthy lifestyle. (gov.uk). This would appear to be missing a great opportunity to actually help people in their informative years…especially given the fact stated above that 32/34 countries place mental health as equally important as physical health (and the two are inexorably linked)).
The Good Childhood Report of 2020, shows that there has been a significant decrease in happiness with life as a whole, friendships, appearance, and school. This is a concerning statistic. Another fact is that 50% of mental health problems begin by the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 18. Furthermore a recent study of children’s health found that children in the UK fared poorly for subjective wellbeing, ranked lowest for purpose in life, and ranked lowest in Europe for high life satisfaction.
If the government put legislation in place to really help children and young people understand and cope with mental health issues as part of a compulsory national curriculum, I believe that the numbers of people with mental health issues in later years would significantly decrease.
Mental Health Is A Universal Right
If people can get educated about the importance of mental health throughout their school life people’s attitudes would change, stigma would reduce, mental health issues would decrease and the world would become a happier place. But we can’t wait for a government to realise this.
The media plays a crucial role in this and is improving the way it portrays mental health, and campaigns such as “Britain Get Talking” have had a huge positive impact but there’s still a way to go. If more “celebrities” and “influencers” could do their part to help reduce the stigma of mental health that’d be wonderful.
However rather than wait for other people to do their part I call on you reading this blog to do yours! Here are some things you can do:
Be vigilant. If you notice someone acting as if something’s troubling them, reach out.
Check in - If you know someone who is living with mental health, check in with them to see how they are doing? Do they need an extra little bit of support?
Be kind - Not everyone has visual signs of mental health issues. We all get frustrated from time to time but taking our frustration out on others isn’t a healthy way forward and it can have a huge negative effect on someone. If you can choose to be anything you want in life, choose be kind.
Don’t Judge - If you read about a person’s life, see a person’s actions, hear person’s speech, and so on - even if their behaviour or way of expressing themselves is alien to you don’t judge them! More importantly though, if a person starts opening up to you about an issue…don’t judge them. They are talking to you because they need to get something off their chest, not because they want your opinion on their issue.
Respect - Respect one another without expectation. Respect does not have to be earned. Respect should be given on a basic human level regardless of perceived status or age!
Support - if you know someone who is going through a mental health crisis, support them as best you can. Even if it’s just a quick text.
Time - Time is the most valuable commodity you can give to someone. Giving someone the time to talk or spending time with someone is one of the nicest things you can do.
The theme for World Mental Health Day 2023, is Mental Health Is A Universal Right, so even if you don’t live with any mental health conditions, try to be an advocate for positive mental health and play your part to end stigmatisation.