Ending the stigma this World Mental Health Day

By Dilkushi Poovendran, Research Assistant in Patient Experience and Patient Safety, Centre for Health Policy

The World Health Organisation recognises the 10th of October as World Mental Health Day.  The theme set for this year is on the delivery of psychological first aid, and the need to recognize and support individuals who are in distress.

At some point our lives, most of us will know someone experiencing a mental health issue or experience one ourselves, including stress, anxiety, depression, bereavement, or drug and alcohol problems. Yet the subject of mental illness continues to be taboo, and the stigma attached to it prevents many from speaking out and getting the attention that they need.  Worse is when someone finds the courage to seek help or advice, but are actually unable to access the treatment that they require. As the NHS copes with national cuts to mental health budgets, patients with severe and enduring mental health issues are unable to find inpatient beds or are left on long waiting lists to receive psychological services. Staffing levels within mental health services are also being stretched to their capacity, leading to unprecedented amounts of burnout amongst clinicians and support staff who are needed to care for some of the most vulnerable patients.  

Indeed, the need for all of us to equip ourselves with psychological first aid skills has never been more pressing as we face increased barriers to access professional services.  This type of community care and support from families, friends, and colleagues will never replace professional treatment for those who would benefit from it, but it does make it in everyone’s best interest to consider mental wellbeing as part of a continuum of mental health.  We are increasingly conscious of how mental health issues like long-term stress can put undue strain on the heart, and these key scientific links between the physical emotional body have led to greater consideration around promoting positive mental health.

Further investment in mental health research is of utmost importance to continue being able to draw these life-changing links. At this year’s IGHI annual scientific symposium, renowned researcher and psychiatrist Professor Vikram Patel presented a strong and compelling academic case for increased mental health research by demonstrating how prevalent mental health conditions are.  The global burden of disease presented by mental illness pervades every corner of every health care system in the world, and as we gain more substantive evidence to prove that investment in mental health pays off, we build a stronger case to bring mental health to the top of a list of competing health priorities for policy makers.  While we continue to strive to improve global mental health through research and the provision of evidence-based treatments, this year’s theme of psychological first aid serves as a potent reminder that mental health affects us all, and it is within our power to encourage mental wellbeing amongst ourselves and others.

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