This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, when charities from around the UK try to challenge people’s attitudes to individuals who suffer from poor mental health. It’s a good moment to take stock of the changes we have seen in the perception of mental health issues over the last few years. Whilst some progress has been made, we need to keep pushing and ensure we are speaking for all mental health conditions.
A great positive of these campaigns is that as a society we are talking more openly than ever before about certain mental health conditions— especially depression and anxiety—and therefore slowly breaking down life-limiting stigma. Recent surveys show a huge improvement in public attitudes towards mental health in the past 20 years. Time to Change, set up in 2007, has campaigned tirelessly to improve attitudes towards mental health. The Department of Health survey Evaluation shows that knowledge of and awareness of issues surrounding mental health have increased between 2009 and 2017.
But, as a society we still have a long way to go. Mental health conditions are still rapidly on the rise. We wrote in a blog on mental health from 2012 ‘one in six people are suffering from mental health problems, costing society £67bn every year’, now that figure is one in four people. According to the 2013 Chief Medical Officer’s Report, the wider cost of mental health problems to the UK economy stood at £70-100 billion per year; whilst the Centre for Mental Health said the immediate cost of mental health problems to the UK workforce alone is estimated at £35 billion in 2017.
Charities have had to step up to meet these problems, replacing statutory services that have consistently been cut. They have done an excellent job of pushing the agenda and holding the government accountable but, with funding tight we can’t expect charities alone to break down these barriers. Whilst improvements have been made around the image of depression and anxiety—thanks in part to a whole host of celebrities speaking out and the Heads Together campaign backed by the Royal family—other forms of mental illness are still not as commonly discussed or understood. Schizophrenia, for example, is still widely portrayed in a negative way, particularly in the mainstream media, and whilst there has been much academic research into this, it has not necessarily translated into a more sympathetic understanding and narrative around the condition in the wider arena.
Obviously, there are issues raising awareness with the more complex and potentially challenging conditions. But as charities we need to provide the public with more knowledge of those less prevalent mental health illnesses such as schizophrenia and bi-polar, as Bipolar UK and the Hearing Voices Network do.
With Mental Health Awareness Week’s focus on stress in the workplace and more common illnesses this year, we can’t forget about the broader range of experiences people face and the need to ensure their needs are met. And as this week also marks learning at work week, I encourage you to take the time to start educating yourself on the effects of different mental health conditions to broaden the narrative. Keep talking and creating that all-important awareness. From understanding and knowledge, we can help end discrimination.