October 10th was World Mental Health Day and yet I sometimes wonder how much progress we are making when it comes to truly understanding the concerns and needs of our ever-growing mental illness epidemic here in the U.K.
What concerns me most about this thought is that, in 2016, it shouldn't be possible for there to be such stigma surrounding mental health. Why? According to Mind, 1 in 4 people in the U.K will experience a mental health problem each year. Mental health illness isn't just 'something that happens to somebody else'; the statistic says 'each year' not 'last year. It doesn't discriminate, there is no specific age or 'type'. 10% of mothers and 6% of fathers in the U.K have mental health problems at any given time. It doesn't know about class systems or what school you went to, or that you might be sick or elderly. In fact, depression affects around 22% of men and 28% of women aged 65 years and over. Around 450 million people around the world currently experience a mental health issue of some kind.
This leads into my main concern because, at the same time, it is estimated that 85% of older people with depression receive no help at all from the NHS. It is also the UK's 'hidden disgrace': as evidence collected by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has exposed that mental health problems are leading to a pay gap as high as 42% as people with Mental Health issues struggle to find jobs in which they are given responsibility and a decent wage. It has got to a point where I have spoken to individuals who are inclined to leave their mental health condition off of their job application because the stigma is so bad they feel they will not be given the job. On top of all of this, the media continue to play a key role in how mental illness is portrayed to the public. Newspapers link mental illness with violence (more than they do with success stories) and they portray people with mental health problems as dangerous or evil.
Who can forget The Sun newspaper's infamous 'BONKERS BRUNO LOCKED UP' headline after Frank Bruno was admitted to hospital? Yesterday I read a tragic news story and my heart went out completely.
The headline should have read widow of Dr Jeroen Ensink, 41, a lecturer who was killed by student, Femi Nandap, on December 29 last year, just days after she gave birth to their baby daughter, calls for an inquiry into "mental health homicides". Instead, it read: 'The widow of a renowned scientist, stabbed to death by a cannabis-addicted psychotic, has slammed Britain's health and legal system for allowing her husband's killer to wander the streets. The 23-year-old barefoot killer, smiled as he repeatedly knifed his victim, who had been on his way to post cards to relatives telling them the good news about the birth.'
This concerns me deeply. Words are powerful and the wording of articles about tragedies like these is that they stigmatise and discriminate against those with mental health illnesses. Of course we do have an issue here, a very serious one. The NHS and the police service need to do much more to safeguard some of the most severe cases of mental health patients from themselves and the public. I completely agree with the sentence handed to Mr Nandap. Still when it comes to the big taboo surrounding mental health, the situation of is exacerbated by the media. Misrepresentation like this is what isolates people. It's what makes people scared to admit when they have a problem. It's what can lead people to suicide. Rapper Kid Cudi recently spoke out to say his mental health condition makes him feel isolated, ashamed and embarrassed. Of course, his social media followers were supportive of him but for as long as the system pigeonholes people and the media pushes stereotypes, too many of our sons, daughters, partners, parents, grandparents and friends will suffer in silence.
When The Express ran a piece with the headline 'GET THE VIOLENT CRAZIES OFF OUR STREETS' or when mother-of-two Britney Spears public nervous breakdown (in which she visited a barbers and shaved her hair off) was written as 'SHEAR MADNESS' 'GOODBYE MOMMY' and 'SHOCKING PICS OF BRITNEY ON THE EDGE OF BREAKDOWN', we know the media isn't helping. Especially when they rarely print facts like 'according to the authors of a report by the University of Manchester report people who kill strangers are more often young men who are intoxicated, rather than people with mental illness'.
So, this is my bugbear. I've only scratched the surface of this issue and yet despite all of this stigmatisation, there is only ONE day of global awareness! We need to have an open dialogue surrounding mental health issues. Our media needs to be less sensationalist in how they portray mental illness. We definitely need more than one day of awareness a year to do this. As it stands, 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem. If they are our future, then we need to change our attitudes. Especially as 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.
If we don't 'get real' about mental health issues in the U.K, then who will teach them how to?
'1 in 4 people, like me, have a mental health problem. Many more people have a problem with that.' Stephen Fry