Charity Support, Advice, Impact Measurement, Philanthropy Impact – NPC

It’s good to talk mental health

By Matilda Macduff 16 July 2013

Starting a conversation about mental health can be tough. Trying to put feelings into words is hard enough already. But explaining something wrong with your mental health, whether to your best friend or a stranger, can be particularly daunting, partly because of the preconceptions many people hold.

So addressing ill-informed views of mental health, and promoting conversations about it, is a priority in the sector. Time to Change has a powerful campaign to encourage people to discuss their state of mind like they would their physical health. Mental health charity Mind revealed yesterday that calls to its infoline increased by 50% in the last year—a worrying statistic, but at least people are talking.

Education is fundamental to address ignorance around mental health, and one way to do this is through the media. BBC3’s current It’s a Mad World season looks at a range of mental health issues faced by Britain’s young people, and included the somewhat controversial Don’t Call Me Crazy, which profiled patients in one of the largest teenage mental health units in Britain. The programme received a mixed reaction from mental health charities—some feel it exploited vulnerable young people for entertainment, and sensationalised treatment by focusing on infrequent incidents rather than the less dramatic day-to-day therapy. Others welcomed it for showing the realities faced by young people with mental health problems, and praised  the bravery and courage of the young people featured. Whatever your opinion on the programme, there is no doubt that it has brought an often-misunderstood issue into the spotlight. It’s good to see that it was developed with Time to Change, which was set up to tackle stigma around mental health.

The cases featured in Don’t Call Me Crazy are at the more serious end of a very broad spectrum of mental illness. But mental health problems are widespread among young people—according to the charity YoungMinds, 850,000 children in the UK have a mental health problem. The likelihood of teenage problems continuing into adulthood is high, as mental health develops and patterns are set for the future.

A quarter to a half of all adult mental health problems are preventable by intervention in childhood or adolescence—so encouraging young people to seek help for mental health problems early is important. A few weeks ago, we blogged about access to mental health services, and making them more mainstream, profiling two innovative charities, MAC-UK and Mindapples. The week before last saw young people’s mental health hit the headlines with the launch of a new charity, Mindfull. The BB Group, which is behind the new organisation, has a track record of successful online community-based approaches, tapping into the vast amount of time young people spend on the internet, and their increased willingness to share their thoughts and feelings online rather than in person.

Mindfull is focused on mental health and well-being, and offers a safe and secure online space for young people to open up about how they are feeling. The site has been developed with its target audience of 11 to 17-year-olds at heart, with mentors, one-to-one support, and counselling available from 10am until midnight every day, and accessible, straightforward information about mental health. The site addresses misconceptions about mental health by providing advice and information, and encourages conversation in a setting and via a medium young people are familiar with. It’s a great idea, and if it follows the success of  the BB Group’s flagship Beatbullying, should add a lot to the sector.

Slowly but surely, attitudes will change, and it’s good to see so much activity working to help this process along. Putting feelings into words may be hard, but there’s no doubt that where mental health is concerned, it’s good to talk.