World Mental Health Day 2020

Today is World Mental Health Day (WMHD) and, as has become my custom, I’m making my small contribution to help raise awareness. The day was initiated in 1992 by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) and is given a theme each year. This year’s theme is ‘Mental Health for All: Greater Investment – Greater Access,’ which seems pretty clear to me.  I think it deserves to be widely shared and acted upon.

If you follow this link it will take you to the WFMH’s landing page for WMHD 2020, and a statement from their President, Dr Ingrid Daniels. This includes these words:

”The world is experiencing the unprecedented impact of the current global health emergency due to COVID-19 that has also impacted on the mental health of millions of people. We know that the levels of anxiety, fear, isolation, social distancing and restrictions, uncertainty and emotional distress experienced have become widespread as the world struggles to bring the virus under control and to find solutions.”

The current worldwide pandemic arose against an already dire mental health landscape that saw mental health conditions on the rise across the globe. About 450 million people live with mental disorders that are among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide (WHO’s World Health Report, 2001). One person in every four will be affected by a mental disorder at some stage of their lives while mental, neurological and substance use disorders exact a high toll on health outcomes, accounting for 13% of the total global burden of disease (WHO, 2012).“

There is also a link on their site to a collection of essays from around the world published in support of WMHD, which set out the vision for the future of mental health, both in terms of ongoing need and in relation to the Covid pandemic. Given the statistics in the brief extract I quoted, there is a huge need for much more to be done globally to improve mental health. I wonder how much attention governments will pay to this?

I make that last comment in respect of the situation here in the UK. In my 2018 piece I spoke about a new government initiative to improve mental health care. This was intended to provide funding and resources for treatment that was much needed, and I commented that I would be interested to see how it developed. Even by last year, the initiative appeared to have been buried: Theresa May, the Prime Minister who had introduced it, had been replaced by Boris Johnson and his bunch of gung-ho Brexiteers, who showed few signs of caring about mental health. Any possibility of this changing has now been submerged by the pandemic, which has challenged the government in ways they couldn’t have expected. Given the ineptitude they have displayed, is there any hope that anything meaningful can or will be done for mental health? I also mentioned in 2018 that the government had committed to producing an annual progress report – I don’t recall seeing any such report last October, and I think we can whistle for one with the current lot allegedly in charge!

With or without the government’s help, work continues to support those who suffer from mental health issues. Here in the UK much of that is led by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), whose WMHD page can be found here. They offer a range of publications to support our awareness of how to manage our mental health and their page of Covid-19 resources is particularly good. I was rather taken with their advice on coping with our mental health as we come out of lockdown, and the concerns people may have about how we should act whilst the scientific debate is as yet anything but clear. This is what worries me most about my own situation: so far, I’ve had no signs of any return to the depression I went through nine years ago, but I need continuing physical health care, and I’ll admit to being worried about going to healthcare services which are, by their nature, full of unwell people! The longer I have to think about that, the more that worry could grow, so for me the availability of resources giving me helpful guidance on coping is very important.

But I am just one person. How do my situation and worries translate into the wider picture? In view of my scepticism about the resources being made available by government – or, more accurately, the lack of resources – I can foresee a time, probably next year, when our mental health services are completely overrun. I know from my time in the NHS how pressed the existing services were to cope with the levels of demand they experienced and, seven years on, I doubt that has improved. The problem is, I think, that no one really knows what will happen. It is abundantly clear from the current moves towards a second lockdown that the measures our government has taken to manage the pandemic, with all of the constant chopping and changing, haven’t succeeded, and somehow I doubt that much time and thought is being given to mental health aspects of the pandemic whilst the physical aspects are displaying signs of spiralling out of control again.

I hope you can find time today to reflect on your own circumstances – it is an appropriate day to do so, after all. I also hope that you and those close to you are coping with everything we are going through at present. I know I have been disparaging about governments, but healthcare services, no matter how hard pressed they are, do exist and can provide assistance if needed. Online resources like those provided by the MHF can also give valuable support so, if you think they might help you, please do take a look at them. Our mental health is equally as precious to us as our physical health, and we should all take care. And if someone you know may appear to need some help, a small first step – just asking if they are alright – can be so important.

‘Mental Health For All’ cannot be allowed to just become words for a slogan – we all deserve to have good mental health.

The Time Has Come…..Again

I was going to post for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) anyway, but this post from last year popped up in my Timehop feed, so I thought I’d share it again as many of you are new readers and probably won’t have seen it before. At least I’m posting this year while MHAW is still live!

A quick personal update, to get that out of the way. I did move flats and am now coming up to 11 months in the new place. It took me a while to feel settled, but I do now, and my mental health has definitely improved. I haven’t felt the need to seek out the services I mentioned in last year’s post, but somehow I doubt that the general situation regarding provision in this area will have changed much. Physically I have now been moved on to the next stage of treatment, which can largely be managed by me, rather than my having to go for weekly hospital visits. This is a huge step forward for me: if only I were allowed out to celebrate, or there was anywhere to go!

If you have a moment, please click on the link in last year’s piece to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), as the link takes you to this year’s MHAW materials. As I said in Tuesday Tunes 9 this year’s theme is ‘kindness,’ which I think is especially appropriate. In these pandemic days we need to be more kind towards each other. My Facebook news feed has contained many instances of kindness to others, and I expect yours will have been the same. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to do something which will brighten someone’s day, and this can be beneficial for the mental health of both parties. The MHF have many useful tips and resources, so I hope you take a look. If you have longer, there is a very well-written piece about why kindness should be a driving factor in public policy – governments would do well to read this and heed the advice!

I hope you have a chance to reflect on the theme of kindness, and that it will help you and someone else that you know: friends, relatives, other loved ones….

Take care, stay safe, be well and be kind – to yourself and others 😊👍

Take It Easy

Lewis Carroll: Through The Looking Glass

Funnily enough, I won’t be talking about any of those things in this post, though there is a temptation to think about when pigs might have the wings to fly. But I’ll pass on that, for now. The ‘many things’ I have in mind are the reasons why I have been away from here for some time. I’m sharing them to show how easily what we believe to be the equilibrium of our lives can be unbalanced. Last week, when I began writing this, was Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), and that seemed as good a time as any for a post which has mental health as its underlying theme. MHAW is organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and you can find out more about it from their website. I wasn’t really following their theme for this year – how our body image…

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Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

A couple of weeks ago, when I shared Feeling Good? – For Mental Health Awareness Week I said that I was in two minds about posting again for the actual week itself, as the theme this year was Stress, and I didn’t feel that I was qualified to write about that any more, having, I thought, managed to remove most of the stress factors from my life since I retired.

The week is organised by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), who do a great deal of good in raising awareness of mental health issues and supporting those in need of help. Their website can be found here and is well worth a visit. It was they who have prompted me to post this: I’ve been on their email list for a long time, and a recent email from them invited me to take their ‘stress test.’ I thought I might as well, and did so in the expectation of a very low score. What I got was this:

This came as a bit of a surprise. These tests are, by nature, a little subjective, but I had done my best to be honest with myself – there wouldn’t have been much point if I hadn’t! But even to be as high as on the cusp between low and moderate has made me think. Maybe I’m not doing as well as I thought? What should I do to improve things. You can see from the image that the MHF offer a ‘Be Mindful’ course to help reduce stress levels and I followed the link to it. I’m not sure that it is for me, or that I’d be spending the £30 wisely, when there are so many courses, books, videos and apps available at a much lower cost. This might seem shortsighted to you, but I’m a pensioner on a budget!

What this test result has done is to get me thinking. I still don’t think I have any major stress factors in my life, though my main concern – my physical health – has potential for this. But it’s not like I’ve experienced in the past. As well as my long period off work in 2011-12 with depression, I was also away for three months in 2006-7 with what my GP called a ‘stress-related illness.’ That was at the time when I was starting to go through a divorce, and there were obvious reasons for the way I was feeling. But I don’t have those now, so why should I be scoring even low numbers on the test? I need to take a look at myself, I think, and work out if there’s anything I should be doing to prevent those numbers going up. And therein lies the lesson for us all, and the reason why organisations like the MHF exist to help us.

As part of the week, they have published a number of short videos on YouTube. I’m going to share a couple with you here. Firstly, a general one explains what stress is, and how it can lead to mental health problems:

The MHF has also undertaken a survey to find out how we think we are coping with our lives. In this brief video, they present a few of the key findings from the survey:

I find it shocking that 74% of us feel that we aren’t coping, and that this figure is even higher amongst the 18-24 age group. Last week, the Parliamentary Select Committees for Health and Education issued a joint report which called on the Government to make good on its promises to improve mental health education and treatment for young people: it appears that they need to give this the highest priority now, and not lose sight of this in the midst of everything else they are trying to deal with. Young people are the future of this country, and we shouldn’t be failing them.

I make no apology for the fact that this post is focused on the UK, because that is where I live and know most about. But mental health issues affect every country in the world, don’t they? May has been marked as Mental Health Awareness Month in the US since 1949, and is organised by Mental Health America, whose website can be found here. Their theme this year is ‘Fitness #4mind4body.’ Whilst the theme may be different, the underlying message is clear: we all need to be doing more to improve our own mental health and to help others. And that goes for governments, too.