It’s World Mental Health Day today – a day organised by the Mental Health Foundation to raise awareness of mental health and discuss a particular aspect of it. For many of us – if not all – every day is mental health day, as we live with one or many mental health conditions.
I was around 12 when I first started experiencing anxiety and depression, and 14 when I was admitted to a psychiatric unit for 6 months. That was in 2004. 10 years on, I have been reflecting on how and whether things have changed, both personally and nationally.
The attitudes to mental health that I have encountered seem to slowly be getting better as I get older. When my mother went to a parents evening shortly after I had attempted suicide, only one parent – the mother of my closest friend – approached her. Other parents ignored her, and the school ultimately refused to have me back. We struggled to find another school that would take me. Eight years later, a school I worked in for two years had a self-harm support group. Talking to my mum, we agreed that things have changed, but that change is too slow, and the stigma and lack of services continues to fail people who are struggling.
In a letter from the Chief Executives of 6 mental health charities, they state that ‘Mental health is chronically underfunded. It accounts for 28% of the disease burden, but gets just 13% of the NHS budget.’ A report by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) published in December 2013 showed that since 2005, 30,000 people with mental health problems have lost their social care support.
As the cost of living soars and those with mental health conditions are placed under more stress, these cuts are lethal. The treatment I had from the NHS was lifesaving. The care the nurses, doctors, social workers and teachers provided was constant and vital. Families with jobs and children and their own lives to deal with can not cope with these situations alone.
It isn’t all bad – World Mental Health Day only begun in 2006, and now we have Time to Change, a national campaign to remove the stigma around mental health. More and more public figures talk about their mental health experiences, and there are now campaigns for responsible and respectful reporting on issues involving mental health. When Britney Spears was hospitalised in 2007, it was frequently reported as a ‘meltdown’ and the commentary around her was extremely distressing and salacious. I wonder if that would happen now.
There are a lot of things you can do to help. You can sign the Time to Change pledge and ask your school, university or workplace to as well. If you can, you can donate to Mind, a charity which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem and campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding You can educate yourself on mental health – the Mental Health Foundation produce publications on mental illnesses which you can download here. This World Mental Health Day, you can take small steps both to remove the stigma and to fight against cuts to mental health services.