I love World Mental Health Day. I know there is an awareness day, week, month for just about everything under the sun these days but there's something so inspiring about 10 October, which manages to be both wonderfully celebratory and incredibly grounding in equal measure. It's an opportunity for anyone and everyone with an interest in mental health to feel part of a global movement- every mention of mental health helps to raise awareness and reach new people.
This World Mental Health Day is particularly exciting for Mind, as we will be welcoming the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to one of our local projects. Such a high-profile visit feels like a significant moment for mental health, a measure of how far we have come in raising the profile of mental ill health, to bring it out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
I have been working in mental health for 25 years now, since I was a press officer at Samaritans, and in that time we have come a long way. Awareness has grown enormously and, with it, public attitudes are beginning to shift thanks in part to the anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change, which Mind runs with Rethink Mental Illness. Changing public attitudes takes generations of sustained effort but I am pleased to say that after eight years of Time to Change we have seen a small but significant improvement in how people with mental health problems are treated by society.
It feels now as though we talk about mental health like never before. More and more high profile figures speak openly about their own experiences, the media cover all sorts of angles in the news, soaps and dramas use mental health with increasing sensitivity in their storylines and the UK government has it on the agenda. There is so much to be positive about.
However, there is also a great deal to feel much less optimistic about. People may be speaking out and seeking help but often that help isn't available. NHS mental health services are under huge pressure after years of neglect and fresh cuts over recent years and are struggling to cope with demand.
I am the independent co-chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce and, as part of our work, we held an open call for evidence to help identify the problems in and priorities for the NHS over the next five years. The response was astonishing. We had more than 20,000 people complete our survey, largely telling us the same things - that people need fast access to good-quality services as early as possible.
Currently, most NHS mental health services aren't able to provide that kind of care, meaning thousands are becoming more unwell and need more intensive support further down the line. We need significant investment in mental health services if they are to get people the help they need, when they need it.
We also need to see true recognition of the fact that mental health goes way beyond the NHS. Every government department, every public service, every community, employer, local MP, family and individual should have mental health on their agenda, because mental health is affected by and has an impact on every area of our lives.
Schools play an especially crucial role. We teach our children that running around and eating healthily and avoiding smoking and drugs and alcohol are all good for their physical health, but teaching them about their mental health is less common. This is despite the fact that one in ten children and young people aged five to 16 experiences a mental health problem - three children in every classroom - and that half of all lifetime mental health problems start by the mid-teens.
That's why we are so proud that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be visiting a Mind project that aims to improve young people's mental health. Mind in Harrow works with Harrow College to deliver Mindkit, a programme designed to help young people understand their own mental health and to give them the skills to cope with life's challenges. The project, funded by the Department of Health Volunteering Fund, involves training up 18-30 year-olds who have experienced mental health problems to go into the college and talk to young people about the importance of looking after their mental health and when to ask for help.
In the first three months of delivery, Mindkit has run 22 sessions already reaching over 1,000 young people in London. Our Mindkit volunteers are helping ensure that the next generation will have a much more positive attitude to mental health.
One in four of us will experience some kind of mental health problem in the next year. Mental health problems are common and they don't discriminate - they can happen to anyone. As we teach our children to be aware of their mental health and give them the tools to look after themselves, we have to continue to fight to make sure that services are there to give them the help they need and that every part of our society is set up to support good mental wellbeing.