I’ve been asking myself a fairly existential question this week – namely if mental health is now as prominent as it appears to be in the body politic, do we actually need a Mental Health Awareness week any longer? Spoiler alert, I’ve reached a conclusion that may not entirely surprise you.
The first test in answering that question is obviously – what is it that we are trying make people aware of. That it exists? That we all have it? That, like the shares you might have invested in, it can go up and down? Surely those are a series of well-established homilies that no one would dispute.
Well surely not. It remains the case that there is still an enormous amount of stigma associated with mental health and, astonishingly, there are still some slightly more unreconstructed folks out there that don’t accept it even exists or that if it does it’s nothing more than a good sock pulling-up exercise will remedy.
And that brings me to the second test – who is it we are trying to make aware? Are we trying to convert the hostile, interest the disinterested; encourage those sceptical that things are improving to keep the faith, or a bit of all three?
To borrow a slogan – there is much done but there is still much to do. And while that is the case we still have to try to keep the issue in people’s consciousness.
Awareness is necessary to create momentum for change and there is no doubt that momentum has taken us up and possibly beyond the tipping point but the task ahead is to convert that mandate into action. Action that will not only help prevent people become unwell but also properly support those currently experiencing mental illness. In the case of the latter people still wait too long to receive treatment and support, and often have their wishes ignored when in crisis.
I don’t have to search far for evidence. About fourteen hours before writing this I met a man in his mid-40s who had attempted suicide twice in the last year yet was told by his GP that the next available appointment for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy was in about six months. That, and too many cases like it, are astonishing two years after the publication of the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health – a blueprint for change accepted in its entirety by the Government
So being loud and proud, as an Awareness Week encourages us to do, is the best way to keep decision-makers’ feet to the fire. Think of it like this - 40 years ago if someone was diagnosed with cancer there was often stigma and shame. Neighbours whispered into their sleeves at the very mention of it- “ssh don’t tell anyone else but he has the Big C”. It was only when those diagnosed came out of the shadow and refused to be silenced that the quality of research, treatment and public interest followed. So perhaps this week is a good opportunity to remind everyone that we all have mental health and so we all need and deserve a health system that reflects that reality.
There is no Big M. And there never has been. I have a strange feeling that the noise we will hear next week is the public clamouring for action that matches the awareness.
Visit www.rethink.org/mhaw to see how you can get involved.