It feels like we are finally waking up to the impact of mental health issues.
There are more people than ever before, one in four of us in the UK, suffering from at least one mental health problem each year and depression is the leading cause of disability in the world.
In Britain, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in men aged 20 to 49, overtaking cancer, heart disease and road accidents.
With celebrities and royalty sharing their own mental health struggles, it seems as though we are on the cusp of grasping what a devastating and prolonged impact mental health can have on people’s lives and how important it is to remove the stigma that surrounds it.
I have suffered from depression, postnatal depression and anxiety disorder for many years. It follows me around like a dark cloud, coming and going, with some days being harder than others.
Up until recently, I have been reluctant to talk about my mental health problems. The truth is; I still feel acutely ashamed when it comes to sharing my experiences and I hold back from talking about it with those I am closest to. This post has been pretty hard to write.
Guilt and shame stopped me from getting help when I needed it most, which meant things escalated quickly. I worried that if I shared what was going on in my head, the cracks I kept hidden would begin to show and I would be judged for being weak and incapable of being a mum.
These traits have long hindered the recovery of mental health sufferers, which is why it is so important that progress is being made to help those in need without prejudice.
The problem with mental health though is that it doesn’t have a face or any physical attributes that indicate something is wrong. There are no definitive symptoms because the mental health spectrum is so wide. There isn’t a bold and bright warning light. We have to rely on how we are feeling at the time, which for me changes from day to day. I may feel sad, there could be a knot lurking in my stomach or a feeling of disassociation.
For a long time to suffer from depression or any other mental illness was like keeping a dark and dirty secret.
Only now are we starting to paint a true picture of what mental health looks like. In the past, the media wasn’t always entirely sympathetic or accurate in their portrayal of mental health, reinforcing stereotypes rather than trying to overcome them.
As a society, we haven’t been in tune with how to help. If you can’t see it, how do you know it exists?
Suffers may also be plagued by uncertainty as to what is causing their mental health problems, or whether they really have a mental health problem at all.
Prominent campaigns such as Heads Together and Time to Talk have contributed to dispel prejudices surrounding mental health. However, we need to ensure that once people do seek help, the support there and is provided quickly.
Aside from the logistical and financial challenges faced by the NHS in recruiting physiatrists, progress has been made.
Investment has been made in the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) Program. It was launched 10 years ago and has since trained thousands of devoted therapists across the country. It has improved access to mental health services, something I’ve personally benefited from, and it has made a big difference in my battle against depression and anxiety.
When it was launched its ambition was to treat 15 percent of suffers which seems like a step in the right direction but is still far from perfect.
Richard Carlton Crabtree, director of services at Insight Healthcare pointed out in his article for The Independent: “Imagine the outcry if it was openly stated that only 15 percent of cancer patients, diabetics or people presenting at A&E with a broken leg would be funded via NHS.”
He added that context is king and that one in four of the UK’s population is roughly 13 million people.
“When we pause to consider the issue, it is apparent that we are talking about huge numbers. If all thirteen million came forward, our present NHS system would be catastrophically overwhelmed; it is simply not architected to accommodate demand on this scale.”
So where does that leave us?
Perhaps we should start really looking at the root of the cause. Unfortunately, it is a rare thing to find a family member or a friend who hasn’t been affected by a mental health issue at some point in their lives.
As the burdens and demands of modern life prevail, we need to find ways to conquer the difficult consequences that plague our society.
You don’t need to suffer in silence.
Whatever is going on your life, you are entitled to talk about your feelings and to ask for help.
We need to continue to share our stories and be kinder to ourselves and show compassion to those in need.
We need to face this tidal wave together.
Breaking down the stigma won’t happen overnight, but if we can help a friend, a neighbour or a colleague who may be suffering by simply being there and listening, then we just might bring down that final taboo once and for all.