Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, according to the charity Mind. This may seem a high figure but it is supported by evidence. A survey conducted by the National Centre of Social Research asked 5,000 adults about their experience of mental health and found that 26 per cent had been diagnosed with a mental illness. The most common diagnosis was depression, followed by anxiety, phobias and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).
Unless you have been living in a news blackout for the past few months, the surge of interest in mental health problems cannot have escaped your attention. People are talking about it openly and “coming out” with confessions about their own mental health problems. The young royals – William and Harry – have given it a particularly high profile by baring their souls about how they coped following the death of their mother. Others, notably Stephen Fry and Alastair Campbell have also been highly vocal about their mental health problems.
Over the past few months a series of initiatives and reports have appeared about mental health which indicates that it is being taken extremely seriously. There have been reviews into mental health in the workplace and schools, an NHS England plan to boost mental health services (the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health) and a pledge in the Conservative party’s manifesto to tackle the “injustice of mental health” and conduct an independent review of the 1983 Mental Health Act.
Spotting the early signs of problems can make a huge difference by intervening before people need professional help. This is one of the reasons why we have developed two new awards in Awareness of Mental Health and Wellbeing at levels 1 and 2. They are designed for non-specialists (both employees and volunteers), working in a wide variety of public-facing settings, covering domestic and residential care, education, housing, transport and retail. As well as a general understanding of the meaning of the terms ‘mental health’ and ‘wellbeing’, they include knowledge of key legislation, how to spot symptoms of mental illness and supporting people at risk, as well as finding ways to foster their own mental health and wellbeing. An important aim is to remove the stigma of mental health by providing an understanding of issues surrounding it.
Within the education sector, the stresses at work have been a major contributory factor affecting the mental health of teachers and students. A recent You Gov survey by the Education Support Partnership – a charity providing services in mental health and wellbeing for people working across the education sector – revealed that 75 per cent of education professionals say they have faced physical and mental health problems which they attribute to their work. This is significantly higher than the general working population which is around 62 per cent. Among education professionals who described their current mental health as poor, the vast majority (86 per cent) partially or fully attributed this to problems at work. A fifth of those experiencing problems did not speak to anyone about it, with the main reason being that it would be seen as a sign of weakness.
Overcoming the stigma about mental health is something that is already happening. Celebrities like Stephen Fry and Alastair Campbell, who both experienced periods of severe depression, have had a significant impact. One finding from the National Centre of Social Research survey is that an increase in mental health campaigning has led to "a cultural shift in understanding and recognition of mental illness”.
The availability of resources is clearly a factor that will affect the provision of mental health services. But by increasing awareness of mental health problems can be nipped in the bud before they spiral out of control.