World Mental Health Day 2021

Today is World Mental Health Day (WMHD) and, as usual, I am marking it by revisiting the reason I began this blog, almost nine years ago now. Whilst I have strayed a long way from my beginnings it is a subject which remains close to my heart, and this annual date deserves to be noted by me, in doing my small bit to raise awareness. WMHD was initiated in 1992 by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) and is given a theme each year. This year’s theme, announced by the WFMH President Dr Ingrid Daniels, is  ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’. In her announcement, she said:

This theme was chosen by a global vote including WFMH members, stakeholders and supporters because the world is increasingly polarized, with the very wealthy becoming wealthier, and the number of people living in poverty still far too high. 2020 highlighted inequalities due to race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and the lack of respect for human rights in many countries, including for people living with mental health conditions. Such inequalities have an impact on people’s mental health.

This theme will highlight that access to mental health services remains unequal, with between 75% to 95% of people with mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries unable to access mental health services at all, and access in high income countries is not much better. Lack of investment in mental health disproportionate to the overall health budget contributes to the mental health treatment gap.  

Many people with a mental illness do not receive the treatment that they are entitled to and deserve and together with their families and carers continue to experience stigma and discrimination. The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ grows ever wider and there is continuing unmet need in the care of people with a mental health problem.

The full statement is considerably longer than that: I shared that extract to give you a feel for why the theme has been chosen, but if you’d like to read the full version you will find it on the WFMH’s website, here. The emphasis this year is very much on raising awareness of the imbalance in care and treatment for mental health issues around the world, which is laudable. I just hope that governments actually take this seriously and do something about it – we can but hope.

If you have read any of my sporadic posts on mental health before you may recall that I have quoted the UK’s Mental Health Foundation (MHF) as a source of help and information. You can find their site here, and as usual it has a range of materials to help you support the day, some of which I have borrowed for illustration around this post. They have just announced this morning a new Covid Response Programme, which you can read about there, and there are also a number of links to give you more information about how we should care for our mental health, and why it is important that we do. I have long been a supporter of the MHF, and have recently acquired this fetching mask to show my support:

The model may not be up to much, but the mask is good! Their site also mentions their pin: I have one of these too. They cost very little and are a good way to support the MHF’s work:

Amongst those links I mentioned the MHF has a series of videos and podcasts about mental health. All are available free on their website, and this will give you a flavour of the videos:

Amongst the other videos you will find some of people telling their stories – for me, these are moving, as I don’t think I’d have been brave enough to go in front of a camera to talk about myself like that.

From their podcasts, this one gives you an introduction to mindfulness, and what it can do for us. I was never advised to practice it – I think it was only becoming recognised in its current form at the time my spell of depression was coming to an end – but you can hear from this why it might be helpful, and why I might turn to it if I feel the need (click anywhere on the image to play):

And hot off the presses, they have just released a new podcast to mark WMHD, in which two women talk about their recent experiences with mental health:

I am assuming that these resources will probably be available to all, regardless of whether or not you are in the UK, but I am sure you will also find similar help where you are: for example, American readers can scroll down the right hand column to the “Stand Up For Mental Health’ badge. If you click this it will take you direct to the Healthy Place Inc. page for their campaign (but it takes you away from here, so do please come back!). I know that there are similar organisations and initiatives in other countries, too.

Last year I remarked that the pandemic was very likely to increase demand for mental health services, and cast my thoughts back to 2018, when the then UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, introduced a new initiative to support mental health. Not surprisingly, her replacement by the gung-ho Brexit brigade has seen that cast to the waste heap of failed government programmes, even before the arrival of the pandemic. The current government has shown a lack of support for the NHS in general, using it as an object of blame more than as something it needs to support, and mental health doesn’t appear to be a priority for them. They have announced additional funding – to be paid for by taxpayers, of course – but have yet to show any clear idea of how this might be used to provide the additional care that is much needed. Mental health services are very much the Cinderella of the NHS at the best of times, fighting for every last pound that they can attract, and we are far from being anywhere near the best of times at present. Sadly, that prediction I made last year has been proved correct, but it didn’t really take a genius to work it out, did it? The pandemic has indeed made this bad situation even worse: I read yesterday in the paper that it is estimated that cases of depression rose by over 25% worldwide during 2020, so the WFMH’s theme is timely. Much more needs to be done by government, but we can all do our bit too. If you follow the MHF link you will find helpful tips for ways we can all help ourselves and those we care about, and whilst it is important that there is a national programme to support mental health issues we should all do our best for ourselves. That may be easier said than done, but we should all try – it just makes sense.

There is a very personal reason for me to support WMHD this year. On 10th October 2011 I was first diagnosed with depression – today is my tenth anniversary. Having been involved prior to that in supporting WMHD initiatives as part of my day job and in a voluntary capacity, the personal irony of the date being that of my diagnosis has not been lost on me. This year, it has me in reflective mode: so much has changed for me in that decade. The diagnosis was the beginning of a spell of more than nine months off work and, by the time I returned, I only had fourteen months left until I retired. My boss was incredibly supportive, and set me onto project work – which I hope made a difference. As part of my return to work I was given access to a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), some of which required me to commit thoughts to paper, and out of that came the beginnings of this blog. If you haven’t seen the posts on this before, you can find them under ‘My Story’ in the menu at the top of the page. Whilst other health issues – physical health, that is – have limited me a lot in the past six years I have been able to draw on my memories of that bad time, and how I was helped to get through it. Those who have suffered from depression know that you are never ‘cured,’ and that as it is part of your chemical make up it can come back to affect you. That is why I take care of my mental health, and follow some of those tips I was given and those which you can find on the MHF’s website.

I don’t ever want to go back to how things were for me ten years ago: I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, and if you feel that you may be suffering – whether that might be the after effects of the pandemic or for other reasons – do take a look at what the MHF say. With hindsight, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to take that first step and talk to someone: that could be a friend, a loved one, a work colleague or a medical professional. It can be hard to pluck up the necessary courage, but it is vital: I left it too late to do that, and things had become much worse for me than they should have done. At the very least I might not have needed so much time off work! Again, this is an easier thing to say, rather than do, but I cannot emphasise enough how much it can help. Take care of yourself and you will be better placed to help others. On this World Mental Health Day that is perhaps the most important thing any of us can do.