Written by Maddie Daly
Today, schools and groups up and down the country will recognize World Mental Health Day, some for the first time. For some people, it will be the first time they get the chance to develop an understanding of mental health and the importance of protecting their mental wellbeing. A lot of people would claim to know what mental health means by definition, but do they know what it means to suffer or to care for someone who does? It is hard to find anything negative about people learning how to look after their own mental health, and how they can support their loved ones through their struggles, but it must be asked why is it necessary? Why must there be a day to address mental health solely, for if society had the appropriate knowledge already, there would be no stigma that needs to be addressed.
The World Health Organization recognises World Mental Health Day on the 10th October, with the World Federation for Mental Health saying the message is “mental health for all.” It was created in 1992 as a global initiative to fight for awareness and advocacy against the social stigma surrounding the topic. As mental health has become an ever-increasing issue within society, more attention has been drawn to the subject, meaning that the advertising and campaigning surrounding the day has educated people on the issue. However, it cannot be ignored that for society to genuinely recognise the importance of one’s mental wellbeing, more than one day a year is necessary.
Mental health is an issue that will affect everyone, for mental health does not discriminate. Regardless of age, gender, race, upbringing or social status, mental health can still affect you at some point in your life. In 2019 alone, there were 5691 suicides in England and Wales, rising 321 from 2018. Suicide has now become the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK, statistics reveal that 84 men take their own life every week, giving suicide the label of “the silent killer.” The figures show that immediate action is needed to address this issue. Despite these alarming figures, mental health services are criminally underfunded. Austerity cost the NHS millions, and a large part of the cuts were directed at the mental health system. The average wait for support on the NHS is a 6-week period, with a private therapy session costing on average £60 for a sole hour. In total, mental health has cost NHS England over £105 billion. Each year, one in four of us will struggle with a mental health problem, and the figures in adolescents are even more alarming.
The NHS says that 20% of adolescents experience mental health issues every year, and of these people, 50% of them would have first experienced mental health problems by the age of 14. Similarly, 75% of them would have first experienced mental health problems by the age of 24. 10% of 5- 26-year olds experience a clinically diagnosable mental illness. Meaning that in the average school class of 30 students, at least 3 could be struggling with not just their mental health but with a diagnosable illness. Despite these figures, young people are suffering from the issue of under funding as much as adults as 20% of young people must wait more than 6 months for treatment on the NHS. Furthermore, of the 10% of 5-26-year olds living with a clinically diagnosable mental illness, only 30% receive appropriate intervention, leaving the remaining 70% with no support at all.
In 2017, the Government created their new “Five Year Forward View for Mental Health,” their new initiative to address the mental health crisis in the UK. It was released on the 9th January 2017, and the Government said that emphasis was placed on “building resilience, promoting good mental health and wellbeing, prevention and early intervention.” Input was used from key figures from the NHS and other bodies, chaired by Mind’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer. The Government also spoke to over 20,000 people with lived experience. They key aim of the plan was to create equality between the support available for physical health and mental health. They key ideas of the plan included:
- Support to an additional one million people with mental health problems by 2020/21.
- 24/7 access to mental health care for those facing a crisis.
- Equality of treatment and esteem between physical and mental health.
- Wider focus on good mental health from all areas of society, such as schools, workplaces and community organisations.
- Urgent action to ensure equality of access to mental health care, for those from Black and Ethnic minority communities.
Moreover, the 1983 mental health act was studied, and the Government discussed whether it needed to be revised. The Government said that they would continue the act, but no immediate change was necessary.
However, one could argue that this plan has not worked effectively – as previously mentioned, the suicide rates have increased along with the waiting times for treatment. Mind UK’s policy and campaigns manager Geoff Heyes, said recently that “Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a huge shift in attitudes towards mental health.” Furthermore he continued to say that “We know the earlier that people get the help they need, the better. When people don’t get the help they need they risk needing more intensive support further down the line. The ultimate consequence can be catastrophic.”
The problem in the UK is that despite the growing mental health figures, there is still a lack of understanding leading to a stigma. This stigma is proven by the fact that over one third of people in the UK believe that those suffering with a mental illness are violent. Similarly, there is a misunderstanding regarding those with mental illnesses and crimes. Despite the misunderstanding that those with mental illnesses are violent and potentially dangerous, the ratio of victim to perpetrator is 2-5 proving that those with mental illnesses are more likely top be the victim of crime then the perpetrator. These proves why more education surrounding the topic of mental health is necessary in the UK as there is still a stigma. This stigma is costing lives as it prevents people from accessing the support they need. It makes it harder for people to feel comfortable enough to reach out for help due to the fear of judgement. One could therefore argue that despite Word Mental Health Day being a positive thing and encouraging people to reach out for help for their mental health, it isn’t enough. As a society we have chosen to ignore and often belittle people’s struggles.
To truly fix the issue we have to fight the discrimination towards mental health in society, funding needs to improve, promises to need to be fulfilled and attitudes need to be changed. We will never achieve this if we only dedicate one day per year to mental health. This issue effects people every day, lives are lost every day, so let’s work towards fixing this problem every day.
Maddie Daly is a first year English student at the University of Leicester, with a particular interest in Politics & Society. You can find her on Instagram here: @maddiedaly