Mental Health Awareness Week – This Year’s Theme and Why the Issue Shouldn’t Only Be on Our Lips for Seven Days

This week was Mental Health Awareness Week and in its 17th year the charity and organiser, the Mental Health Foundation, has focused on stress and how we’re coping. They surveyed 4,169 adults in the UK and asked them a variety of questions regarding what made them tick, how it affected them and how they thought we as a society can work on the issue.

Their research concluded that over the past year, almost three quarters (74%) of people have at some point felt so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Causes ranged from their own/friend/relative’s long-term health problem, debt, the need to respond to messages quicker, appearance and body image. Moreover, the investigation found that overall our age group, that is, 18-24-year-olds, were substantially more concerned about housing, the pressure to succeed and comparing ourselves to others than older groups of people. This isn’t surprising considering we are dubbed Generation Rent and graduates face unemployment unless their LinkedIn page is as long as Chairman Mao’s book.

Although they acknowledged that stress is not a mental health problem in itself, it can manifest and lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide. Indeed, 51% of those surveyed described how they felt stressed, reported feeling depressed, and 61% reported feeling anxious as a result. And of the people who said they had felt stress at some point in their lives, 16% had self-harmed and 32% said they had had suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Furthermore, it can cause physical health problems, from joint and muscle problems to cardiovascular disease.
Those who were surveyed laid out the various behavioural consequences they have experienced as a result, many of which I am sure we can relate to:

  • 46% reported that they ate too much or ate unhealthily due to stress.
  • 29% explained that they started drinking or increased their drinking, and 16% said that they started smoking or increased their smoking.
  • 37% of adults who reported feeling stressed reported feeling lonely as a result.

However, on a positive note, MHF also pointed to ways we can reduce these feelings:

  • Try to think through what is causing stress and how it could be managed differently.
  • It may help to get a bit more physical exercise. Going for that walk or swim helps balance life.
  • Exercise is a proven way to reduce stress.
  • You could try reducing drinking and smoking which can make problems worse rather than better.
  • Take a break. Even short breaks from work or a person you find difficult can help manage the stresses and the strains of daily life.
  • Try a few minutes of mindfulness each day. We know from research that mindfulness is effective in reducing stress and anxiety.

So, basically every year, for the last 17, a new issue has been chosen and organisations and influential figures have rallied together to talk about breaking down stigmas, promoting awareness and discussing the support that is available. As well as this, the internet, universities and offices are flooded with people talking openly.

Because yes, stigmas still exist.

Many people are still too afraid to inform employers/teachers that they are struggling/have struggled with mental health issues. And if you choose to take the medication route, you’re seen as taking the easy option.

Indeed, Kevin Breel, a comedian, writer and mental health activist isn’t totally wrong when he said:

“We live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast, but if you tell people you’re depressed, everyone runs the other way.”

We see this every day. When people see someone having a heart attack or falling over in public they rush to help them, but when these same people see someone crying erratically or having a panic attack, most of the time they make a specific effort to ignore them and pretend they can’t see it. It’s not that these people are bad or don’t care, it’s just been drilled into our heads that people who act excessively emotional must be crazy and therefore avoided.

It confuses me that people dare to dismiss the 34 million people in the UK who suffer from mental health problems. I’m sure many saw Piers Morgan’s tweet earlier last year telling us all, particularly men, to ‘Man up’. Yep, that’ll definitely help the problem.

Better repress and remain depressed than dare to talk about how you feel – good old British stiff upper lip.

Why don’t we just stick all the mentally ill in shame chambers and burn them with hot irons to make the devil that is mental illness leave their souls? Do you think that’ll work Piers? Because your opinions are Medieval.

And yet, does constantly spewing this same old speech every year actually achieve anything?

Although it’s great to see and read about people opening up about their personal experiences, with others calling for change and offering support on social media, the reality is that we are past the point of talking; policies and services need changing.

Yeah. It’s great you’ve favourited my tweet about my mental wellbeing progression and how we need to continue to break stigmas.

But that doesn’t alter the reality that treatment is stretched thin and underfunded. In terms of research for treatment, cancer attracts £1,500 for research per person, mental health doesn’t even get 1% of that. We completely accept and empathize with those who suffer from physical health problems, rightly so, and thus funding is pumped into treatment and awareness, but for some reason, we can’t comprehend that mental health could possibly be as painful as its sufferers make out.

Therefore, it doesn’t change the fact many people still have limited, or no, access to care. It doesn’t change that people have to wait months for an appointment and diagnosis, let alone treatment. It also doesn’t change that one-to-one therapy can cost as much as £70 an hour.

Moreover, the fact we still lump it all together as ‘mental health’ astounds me, imagine going into to the doctor with several ailments and them going “oh yes that’s a physical health problem.”

It’s true, we need to ensure people have the confidence to speak up, so therefore there need to be more public conversations between friends, activists, celebrities, councillors and governments. Hence, MHAW is good for this.

And yet, the more important plan of action now is that there need to be more funds allocated into teaching children from a young age about mental health so that stigmas and shame cannot continue to infect people’s minds. And there needs to be more money pumped into services, treatments and schemes to help those who desperately need it.

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