20 May Mental Health Awareness Week 2018
As another Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, I find myself encouraged and cautiously optimistic about our future dealing with this complex issue. Every year, more and more people share their own mental health struggles in public forums and social media. It is difficult to scroll through one’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed without finding testimonials from people who’s journey has exposed them to depression, anxiety or stress. Issues considered taboo are brought into the open. People draw confidence from examples set by others. Awareness has never been higher, and a willingness to share deeply personal experiences provokes thought in an ever broadening audience.
Of course, my cautious optimism reflects my own limited experience of an increasing willingness to discuss these issues in the UK where I am living at the moment. People are openly praised for their bravery in sharing their stories. Positivity and support is rife among friends, many of whom may not have known the extent to which their loved ones have suffered. From here, a very important question springs to mind: What is still lacking in our approach to mental health in the UK?
What is still lacking in our approach to mental health in the UK?
Every year, Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) receives the same criticism – issues of mental health don’t just last for seven days, they deserve more than an awareness week. Although MHAW was originally intended to raise awareness of those suffering in silence, for many the time has come for it to do more.
Fears raised on Twitter this year often revolved around the idea that when people need help, the NHS does not have the resources to look after them properly. With private therapy only available at very high cost many are left without therapy, leaving their mental health to deteriorate. Mental health services should be affordable, with mental health organisations offering more than just moral support; rather practical and financial.
With affordability, mental health services must be swift. Reports by the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) were among those retweeted this year, citing waiting times of up to two years for specialist support and even treatments deemed crucial for young children. Clearly, many people see the need for mental health to be placed at the forefront of our health services, with any delay an unacceptable risk to mental health deterioration.
All these criticisms are valid. There is no doubt that we have a long way to go in our approach to mental health resources, something openly acknowledged by the Department of Health. During a recent interview, a spokesperson for the Department of Health assured BBC Three that there better things to come:
“We know there is more to do, and we are investing more in mental health than ever before – spending a record £11.86 billion last year – with another £1 billion on top of that by 2020… We are also investing an additional £1.4 billion specifically for young people up to 2020.”
My thought when reading through people’s contrasting opinions of MHAW is this – keep at it! MHAW was created to get people talking, and it has certainly done that. From simple beginnings, talk has morphed into a very real discussion about government policy and services that can alleviate issues of mental health in our communities. It is through a united, common voice that progress is being made, however small. Yes, things may never move fast enough, but only through continued discussion and mounting public pressure will we create the change we want to see.
by Oliver King