A Changing Landscape for Mental Health

We are reaching an interesting time in mental health. After many years of it being something hidden from public conversation – for example questions like ‘how are you?‘ being answered with ‘I’m fine‘ – there are finally signs that the veil of secrecy is being lifted. We are entering an age when we are becoming more transparent and accepting about mental health.

It seems as though society is starting to understand that the mind, like the body, can to be nurtured and developed. The popularity of mindfulness and brain training apps has shown that people are interested and motivated to make time for their minds. Perhaps as importantly, people are becoming more willing to acknowledge and talk about their mental wellbeing.

In tandem with this there has been an increase in mental health being reported in the media. Hardly a day goes by without a new story. Public figures have come forwards and spoken about their personal experiences and leading charities, such as Mind, have created marketing campaigns aimed at increasing awareness. All of this has contributed to making it more acceptable to discuss our mental health in everyday life.

Still Some Way to Go

And yet, despite these positive steps in the right direction, there are daily news stories reporting how there is not enough support for people with mental health problems. Staggeringly, almost 50% of people living with depression receive no professional support. Equally common are stories of how people are continuing to experience stigma due to their mental health. Some figures suggest that in the UK 3 out of 4 people report feeling stigma as a result of their mental health. Other research shows that 9 out of 10 people report being unwilling to discuss their mental health with their employer for fear of it negatively impacting on their job prospects.

But why, in 2017, does this stigma and fear around mental health linger on? Why is there such a lack of parity between physical and mental health?! Perhaps the answer is a mixture of misunderstanding and fear – with these two things being intrinsically linked.

Low Level of Mental Health Literacy

Over the years, as a Clinical Psychologist, I have given many talks on mental health. These have covered a range of subjects – including how to maintain healthy minds, learning to recognise common problems and developing confidence in how to support others with mental health problems. I have given these talks to people with a range of backgrounds including office workers, teachers, family carers and lawyers. I have been struck by people’s genuine desire to learn more around the subject. However, what has struck me more, is how little people feel they actually understand what mental health is. Given that it is such a fundamental part of what it is to be human, this feels bizarre. I find it hard to imagine a dentist or doctor reporting the same situation after giving a talk on common dental or physical health matters.

The Importance of Psychoeducation

Over the years, as a Clinical Psychologist, I have given many talks on mental health. These have covered a range of subjects – including how to maintain healthy minds, learning to recognise common problems and developing confidence in how to support others with mental health problems. I have given these talks to people with a range of backgrounds including office workers, teachers, family carers and lawyers. I have been struck by people’s genuine desire to learn more around the subject. However, what has struck me more, is how little people feel they actually understand what mental health is. Given that it is such a fundamental part of what it is to be human, this feels bizarre. I find it hard to imagine a dentist or doctor reporting the same situation after giving a talk on common dental or physical health matters.

I met recently with a former colleague, a senior Clinical Psychologist at a prestigious UK hospital. She said to me ‘as I become progressively more senior and experienced I find myself spending more time teaching people the basics about mental health‘. I suspect she is not the only clinician who would describe this experience. Ultimately we still don’t spend enough time learning and talking about mental health, either as children or adults. Not enough space is given to thinking about how to nurture the most complex thing we ever use, our brains.

So how do we move forwards? I’m inclined to agree with my colleague. I believe that it comes down to teaching people about the fundamentals of mental health. Specifically, how to maintain mental wellbeing, how to recognise and get support for mental health problems (both for themselves and others) and how to facilitate their minds to thrive. By increasing understanding we can reduce stigma and by reducing stigma we can empower everyone to take control of their mental wellbeing.

Digital Health

Achieving widespread understanding around mental health is difficult. There are not enough resources available and people live such busy lives that there is simply not enough time. However, with digital health we have an affordable, personalised and convenient way to reach everyone. I’m excited about what can be achieved with the power of digital health and I’m excited about the road ahead!

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