We’ve probably all been in a situation at least once where we’ve been caught up in a debate with someone who has a point of view which is the polar opposite of our own.
Often these conversations revolve around subjects which might be contentious or controversial or simply evoke tension. During the exchange, it’s likely that you’ve spent a fair amount of time laying out a logical, well-considered argument with examples to illustrate the message you’re trying to convey.
And when it comes to the other person’s time to respond, they simply regurgitate their own opinion – which, of course, barely offers a nod of recognition to your carefully manicured opinions.
And in your head you’re screaming: BUT YOU’RE MISSING THE WHOLE POINT!!
As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, it feels like the whole debate about mental health is circling round and round the subject without ever really getting to the heart of what’s at stake.
We’ve become exceptionally good at understanding the ‘what’ of mental health. We are more aware of what we might describe as the common mental health conditions – anxiety, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism and Aspergers, phobias etc. The list is endless.
Broadly speaking, we’re able, to one degree or another, to recognise some of these conditions – particularly when we are confronted by people who present their mental health in an extreme or exaggerated way.
And, again broadly-speaking, most of us are aware of the sort of solutions that are available to help treat people facing those challenges daily or episodically, whether through clinical mental health care via the NHS or private medicine or through a counselling approach like hypnotherapy.
There’s nothing wrong with that per se. Treating the ‘now’ is not only necessary but also highly desirable. But the problem is, treating the ‘now’ doesn’t do anything to address what happens tomorrow.
In the UK a quarter of all people will report some form of mental health problem every year. Just think about that for a second. 15 million people a year, every year. And the fact is that the system that exists to meet mental health needs in this country isn’t up to the task.
The current Prime Minister says her Government is spending record amounts on mental health care, yet in a recent survey nearly 60% of the UK’s 200-plus Care Commissioning Groups said they were reducing their investment in mental health services due to a shortfall in funding.
So, what’s the truth? Beyond the lies, damned lies and statistics, there is only one real truth and that’s the fact that we need to fundamentally rethink our position on dealing with the UK’s mental health crisis.
Instead of talking about the ‘what’ of today, we need to start to consider the ‘why’ and how we deal with that.
Since Zoe Clews & Associates opened its doors in Harley Street 12 years ago we have seen an alarming rise in the number of people seeking treatment for conditions which can be directly linked to potentially serious mental health issues. A very high proportion of these are triggered by events in the past – often in the long past.
A 15-year-old girl doesn’t suddenly wake up one day and decide to become anorexic. No one makes a conscious decision to live with depression. Yet much of the publicity around issues like these seems to simply start from a point of acceptance.
We have come to see poor mental health in a similar way that we see the common cold – as some sort of unavoidable and inevitable by-product of life – rather than looking more deeply at what brought that person to that point at that time.
If we can teach people – parents, families, teachers and employers, for example – to recognise the early signs of poor mental health and at the same time raise awareness of how to then support that individual through structured care provision we will also begin to erode the instances of a relatively simple issue such as bullying or exam pressure or bereavement leading to chronic mental health issues later on in life.
By tackling the ‘why’ of mental health we can then get to a place where early appropriate intervention, either clinical or not, starts to have a long-term positive effect on the future.
The wonderful charities that support people with mental health challenges are struggling to cope with the ‘now’ and while they are investing what they can in the ‘why’ they struggle with inadequate support and funding.
So we think it’s time to challenge the Government and mental health agencies, charities and practitioners to unite in the battle to turn the public’s focus to why people suffer with mental health issues rather than concentrating on how to treat them.
Whichever Government is in power come June 9th, it needs to prioritise support for the NHS and other agencies to work with the mental health industry of private practitioners and charities to promote public awareness and education around mental health.
That’s our gauntlet. Does anyone care to pick it up?