Why we need to shout about Mental Illness
Mental illness affects 1 in 4 people in the UK and 1 in 6 report experiencing a common mental health disorder (CMD) in any given week. CMD’s includes different types of depression and anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Mental illnesses impact on our physical health and our ability to participate in health-promoting behaviors. People with mental illness are known to have more difficulty in seeking out the physical healthcare they need and are entitled to, and subsequently miss out on routine checks like high cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and weight.
Because mental health is still a taboo topic, many people are going undiagnosed and not getting the treatment they need, which has and continues to lead to suicide. With ever-increasing worldwide suicide, we need to find more and different ways to get everyone involved in raising awareness of mental illness and its impact.
The impact of mental illness in the UK alone
The following figures 1-5 were extracted from Mental Health First Aid England’s 2018 Statistics, and are quite telling. If facts and figures don’t appeal to you, I won’t be offended, just scroll down.
- Mental illness is the second-largest cause of disability in the UK and Mental illnesses are more common, long-lasting and impactful than other health conditions (1)
- People with a long-term mental health condition lose their jobs every year at around double the rate of those without a mental health condition. This equates to 300,000 people – the equivalent of the population of Newcastle or Belfast (2)
- 75% of mental illness (excluding dementia) starts before age 18 (3,4)
- Men aged 40-49 have the highest suicide rates in the UK (5)
- 70-75% of people with diagnosable mental illness receive no treatment at all (3,6,7)
Together we can raise awareness of mental illness
The figures are of course alarming, and it’s clear that we’ve all still got more work to do in terms of raising awareness of this massive global problem — the signs and symptoms, together with the stigma.
It’s also apparent that, more often than not we, the people who actually experience mental illness, are expected to take the lead on speaking out about mental health and promoting awareness. So, what else can we do?
How can we raise awareness
Of course, we have the annual World Mental Health Day, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, which will take place this year from 18th -24th May. This year’s theme is ‘sleep’. The week will focus on the connections between our sleep – or lack of it – and mental health.
When I worked in the Mental Health Day Hospital, I used to love the run up to this week. We’d plan and organise a huge garden party and with our patients’ help we’d invite every patient, including inpatients, their families, friends and visitors, together with every member of staff, including domestic staff, porters, Consultants and community teams, the local sixth forms, colleges and local dignitaries.
We downloaded all the available resources and made hand-out packs to give to visitors every day that week and to the party guests who promised to promote awareness in their workplaces, at colleges and universities. We always managed to get a small spot in the local newspaper and — okay — we never hit the front page but patients loved seeing their efforts being recognised.
UK mental health awareness initiatives
Fortunately, we have more than one organisation promoting the various mental health awareness days. In the UK, each year in February, the Time to Talk Day tries to encourage openness about mental health to help people talk, listen and support others. While I wonder how many people are even aware of it, let alone participate, I still think it’s a great initiative.
April 2020 — Stress Awareness Month has been running every April since 1992 in a bid to increase public awareness of both the causes and treatments for stress.
9th May 2020 — National Schizophrenia Awareness Day shines a light on the challenges faced by hundreds of thousands of people living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia in the UK and millions more worldwide.
These are just a few of the key dates and events that Rethink will be covering — check this page often as some themes have yet to be announced.
Global mental health awareness
Wherever you live, I’m sure you’ve got similar initiatives and maybe you have different dates where your local organisations promote mental health awareness? Do they have online resources that you could use and share?
If you work in the care sector, encourage your colleagues, the care workers and those they care for to start a conversation about mental health? If you work in offices, factories, schools or in the community and you’re not sure how to start the conversation, download information packs to help you with ways to do this.
Talking about our own mental illness
For those of us who experience mental illness, it can be difficult or awkward to open up and it’s up to you entirely who you tell. But sharing it with someone might be a good way of getting some much needed support during difficult periods. You might even feel relieved not having to hide anymore and enjoy having someone to confide in at last.
Furthermore if we’re able to talk openly about mental health, more people might be encouraged to seek professional help. Perhaps families and friends can learn from us, the way forward, to open up and talk about mental illness in their own families. They might even be inspired and join in— by lobbying our governments for better mental health care and improved services, together with raising awareness of mental illness and the impact it has on both patients and their families.
Only by raising this awareness will we be able reduce the discrimination and stigma that accompany mental illness.
Prevention is best
If we can do all the above, governments will be more informed and will have the knowledge needed to provide the right information, guidance and support in childhood and adolescence. The chances of developing mental health problems can be reduced for millions of people over a lifetime – with enormous benefits to the people directly affected, along with their families, friends and the communities they live in, Mental Health Foundation, 2015.
Prevention is best because, as yet, there is no cure.
While much of the work is done by the very people who experience mental illness, do you have any ideas about how to include others in this fight to raise awareness? Is there something else we can or should be doing? I’m looking forward to your comments or any questions.
- Public Health England. Health profile for England: 2019 [Internet]. 2019. Available from: gov.uk
- Stevenson D, Farmer P. Thriving at work: The Independent Review of Mental Health and Employers [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2017 Nov 22]. Available from: gov.uk
- Davies SC. Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2013, Public Mental Health Priorities: Investing in the Evidence [Internet]. 2014. Available from: gov.uk
- Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry [Internet]. 2005 Jun 1 [cited 2018 Oct 16];62(6):593. Available from: archpsyc.jamanetwork.com
- Office for National Statistics. Suicides in the UK: 2018 registrations [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2020 Jan 6]. Available from: ons.gov.uk
- Alonso J, Liu Z, Evans-Lacko S, Sadikova E, Sampson N, Chatterji S, et al. Treatment gap for anxiety disorders is global: Results of the World Mental Health Surveys in 21 countries. Depress Anxiety [Internet]. 2018 Mar [cited 2018 Jun 26];35(3):195–208. Available from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Evans-Lacko S, Aguilar-Gaxiola S, Al-Hamzawi A, Alonso J, Benjet C, Bruffaerts R, et al. Socio-economic variations in the mental health treatment gap for people with anxiety, mood, and substance use disorders: results from the WHO World Mental Health (WMH) surveys. Psychol Med [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2018 Jun 26];1–12. Available from: kclpure.kcl.ac.uk