Mental Health in the UK: it’s time to speak up and come together

According to Thrive LDN, 2 million Londoners will be diagnosed with some form of mental health this year. To put that into perspective, that’s 13 people on every bus and 100 people on every train.

1 in 4 people in the UK experiences a mental health problem each year, with 1 in 6 people reporting a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. Drug dependency, social and economic suppression and loneliness are ranked among common factors in affecting mental health.

Stephen Fry, who was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder aged 37 has spoken out about his own struggles with mental health, he told mental health charity Time to change The first time I had a diagnosis, it explained the massive highs and miserable lows I’ve lived with all my life – I want to speak out, to fight the public stigma and to give a clearer picture of mental illness that most people know little about.’

Stephen thinks better public awareness is essential to help people break their silence. ‘Once the understanding is there, we can all stand up and not be ashamed of ourselves, then it makes the rest of the population realise that we are just like them but with something extra.’

The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health is a £1bn plan to improve mental health care and services for everyone by 2021 by ensuring that 1-million more people with mental health problems are accessing high-quality care. The NHS believe that people facing a crisis should have access to mental health care 7-days a week and 24-hours a day in the same way that they are able to get access to urgent physical health care. But resources are stretched.

Alarmingly, a lack of mental health services in the UK has seen a growing number of patients being sectioned before they receive the help and care they need. The BBC news story on Sherry Denness, who has spent most of the last year in mental institutions.  ‘I tried to kill myself 9 times before the NHS helped me’ is a chilling case in point and the latest CQC (Care Quality Commission) report reveals that since 2005 there’s been a 40% increase in the number of patients who have been sectioned.

At the end of last year, Prime Minister Theresa May published an article in The Express ‘I will use all my power to transform mental health services’ in which she claimed that tackling the injustice of mental illness ‘is one of my absolute priorities as Prime Minister and I believe that by taking these steps together we as a society can transform how we think about mental illness and improve the way we care for all those with mental health problems.

Transforming our approach to mental health will not happen overnight. It will take years and will require a sustained and determined effort by everyone in society.

But we have a historic opportunity to right this wrong and give people deserving of compassion the support they need. The momentum for real change is building.’

This January, Theresa May went on to announce that a series of policy changes would be made to help combat loneliness and social isolation in the UK following recommendations from the Jo Cox Commission, which campaigns on the issue.

Research carried out by the commission found that almost 200,000 older people had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month. Two-thirds of UK adults feel they have nobody to talk to about their problems.

Of the 2,500 people questioned, 66% said they had no one to speak to about mental health, relationships or money issues. It also said that more than nine million people in the UK described themselves as ‘always or often lonely’.

Speak up. Come together

According to social research society, NatCen, people with Common Mental Disorders have become more likely to use community services and discuss their mental health with a GP (increase since 2007). We do have a long way to go but we are talking about mental health more.

Fashion icon and activist Adwoa Aboah launched Gurl’s Talk as a safe space to share experiences and feelings, with the mantra ‘you are not alone.’ She has spoken out about her own battle with mental health, drug addiction and dealing with suicide. Her series of real life talks, videos and features help girls recognise how they are feeling and why they are feeling it – be it PMS, depression, self-loathing, or anything else. It’s useful, real and practical. And opens up that all important discussion.

Gail Honeyman’s acclaimed novel, (Sunday Times Bestseller and 2017 winner of the Costa First Novel Book Award)  Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ explores the harsh reality of living with a mental illness.

Milly Thomas won a Stage Edinburgh Award at the 2017 Fringe Festival for her one-woman play, Dust, a dialogue about clinical depression and suicidal ideation, ‘I’d been depressed and anxious for my entire adult life. Some periods were worse than others, both medicated and unmedicated but working the whole time. Being high functioning is a blessing and a curse. I’d also felt as though I was hiding – I wanted my play Dust to be a battle cry for life’.

Speaking out about our own personal experiences, comedian Aisling Bea tells the story of her father’s suicide and the effects it has had on her life.

Fearless Femme set up by Eve Hepburn (Dr) who has suffered from mental health, is a platform for women to share their own experiences. Eve’s boyfriend died in her arms from sudden heart failure aged 19, she then went on to experience a series of events that lead her to a mental breakdown.

Organisations working to help

Heads Together is Prince William, Duchess Kate and Prince Harry’s charity organisation set up to change the conversation on mental health once and for all. ‘Too often, people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of prejudice and judgement stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives.’

Mind, is the mental health charity that provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Mind campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding of mental health. ‘We won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect.’

Time to change, set up in 2007 works with global organisations and mental health champions to educate on mental health and change the way people think and act about mental health in their communities.

Thrive LDN,  is a government-funded citywide movement, supported by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, and led by the London health board that works to improve the mental health and wellbeing of Londoners. Their goal – to  get communities talking and to ‘empower individuals and communities to lead change and address inequalities that lead to poor mental health and wellbeing.’

BBC Radio 1 Advice, for young people gives advice on a number of topics including mental health.

Cry for help

If you need some advice or if you’re concerned you have a mental health issue, seek help straight away. Speak to somebody close and/or make an appointment with your GP.  The Samaritans on 116 123, or call the 24-hour NHS support line on 0800 0234 650.

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