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by last year, the initiative appeared to have been buried: Theresa May, the Prime Minister who had introduced it, had been replaced by Boris Johnson and his bunch of gung-ho Brexiteers, who showed few signs of caring about mental health.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.

I’m Fine

A couple of weeks ago the Mental Health Foundation launched a campaign called ‘I’m Fine.’ Posters are appearing in key sites in London, particularly on public transport. This was prompted by their research findings that on average we will say that little phrase 14 times a week, though only 19% of us actually mean it. To accompany their campaign they have produced this short video:

A stereotypical view of our reserved British nature would suggest that we say this to avoid opening up, and because we don’t really think that the person who has just asked how we are actually wants or expects an honest answer: 59% said that they expected the answer to be a lie. And if they got the truth, would they know how to deal with it anyway? 44% of the survey sample said they had received an answer they weren’t expecting to the question, and were surprised at being taken out of the comfort zone of ‘regular’ social intercourse.

We are famed for our reserve, but this isn’t just a British thing: if you listen closely there are a couple of distinctly American accents in the video. The point behind the MHF’s campaign isn’t that we lie to each other out of shyness, or a belief that we don’t really think that others want to know how we feel. In many cases, this unwillingness to open up is hiding a mental health problem about which we feel unable to talk. There is still a stigma around talking about mental health and the campaign is aiming to help remove that. There has been much research that has shown how we bottle up our thoughts and feelings rather than seek help, and this survey reinforces that – and also the usual perception that men are worse than women when it comes to talking about mental health issues.

To find out more about the campaign you can go here. Please do, as the site contains a wealth of useful information and tips on how to support someone in need of help – or on how to seek help for yourself if you need it. At this time of year it is very easy to get wrapped up in all the paraphernalia and excitement of Christmas without realising that there may be people we know and care about who aren’t feeling the joy. So, if you ask someone how they are, make sure that you mean it – and be prepared for an answer that may be more than a simple ‘I’m fine.’ I know from my own experience how easy it can be to kid others with that reply – and in doing so I was kidding myself. It doesn’t just have to be a casual greeting – and deserves to be much more than this. It’s worth doing that little bit extra to ensure that they – and you – really are ‘fine.’ As the survey showed, 4 times in 5 that answer isn’t really true.

World Mental Health Day 2014

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I have hardly done any of my Dates To Note this year, as I have already covered most of the ones I wanted to do and there seems little point in repeating myself. But one notable date that I always want to mark is World Mental Health Day (WMHD) which, as ever, falls on 10th October. Yes, check your calendars, that’s today!

Regulars will know that I started this blog two years ago to share my experience of depression, in the hope that this would be helpful to others as well as to me. One of my earliest posts was for WMHD 2012, and I will continue to mark the day as it is dear to my heart. Much has changed in my life in that time, but sadly the stigma attached to mental health issues show no signs of going away.

Each year a theme is chosen for WMHD. Last year it was older people’s mental health, which I thought was quite suitable for me as I had just retired! This year’s focus is on schizophrenia which, as I know from my many years working for an NHS mental health service provider, is a seriously debilitating illness. It affects many more than just the person diagnosed with it: it can be cruelly destructive for families and relationships, and for sufferers’ ability to work and live a ‘normal’ life. The very name ‘schizophrenia’ is usually approached with fear and the ‘I was in two minds’ quips that roll so easily off the tongue. We should all be better informed so as not to perpetuate this, especially as the ‘split personality’ aspect attributed to schizophrenia is a complete misconception!

Rather than attempt my own explanation of the illness I thought it best to point you in the direction of the experts. If you follow this link to the Mental Health Foundation website you will find a great deal of helpful information on WMHD and also a range of other mental health topics. As ever, I am also giving you the link to the NHS website, which provides a huge amount of useful information and suggested further reading, if you are interested.

I hope you can take a few minutes to read what the experts say. I believe you will be better informed if you do!