Mental health has been in the news a lot recently; today brought revelations of the threat of sexual exploitation of children by gangs and groups, and with it, all the devastating implications on mental health.
On Monday night, the mental health charity Mind hosted an awards ceremony, the Mind Media Awards. It was held to celebrate public figures, journalists and programming that offered a positive push in the battle against discrimination, compered by the inimitable Stephen Fry, the president of Mind.
This week also saw the release of data on ‘life satisfaction’ and wellbeing of the country. According to the statistics from the ONS, life satisfaction has dipped since 2009, in contrast to the increase in GDP.
Admittedly, a quantification of such subjective and complex feelings is immensely difficult, but it does represent an important shift in attitude.
Slowly but surely the stigma attached to mental health problems is being eroded. By publicly discussing their own problems, the likes of Frankie Sandford of The Saturdays, Freddie Flintoff and Ricky Hatton all have an impact on the willingness for many people to even acknowledge their problems.
Alastair Campbell (who is also involved with Mind) has previously broken cover on the issue and campaigned for greater understanding, having even written a book on his own battle with depression and what role government could possibly play in personal happiness.
It’s a great point to have made, not just in a utilitarian and idealistic sense, but if government does not take happiness and mental health into account, if it doesn’t put blood, sweat and tears into the public’s wellbeing, what kind of administration is it?
On a less grand note, all this represents a significant amount of coverage on mental health - positive coverage that, not too long ago, many would have thought not possible.
One of the most popular mental health statistics is that one in four people will, at some point, in any given year, experience a mental health problem. That such discrimination, blanketing such a large section of the population, still exists, is baffling.
Last June, the NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care published a report into attitudes towards mental health. The findings were compared with previous years (if applicable) and the picture we are left with is one of slow progress. In 1994, when asked whether mental illness was an illness like any other, 71% agreed; in 2011, when the same questioned was asked, 77% agreed.
In the 2011 survey, when asked whether they agreed a lack of self-discipline and will-power contributed to mental illness, 16% agreed. Not a large percentage, but still one that is far too large; for those who struggle daily with their mental health, this hostility represents a major problem.
When asked whether they would feel uncomfortable discussing mental health with an employee, 50% of respondents said yes. Compared with the 70% that would feel comfortable discussing mental health with family and friends, this demonstrates the roadblock mental health can be in the workplace.
Progress is slow, but it is progress nonetheless. At today’s Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year Awards, Charles Walker and Kevan Jones received the Speech of the Year award for their openness and courage in speaking about their personal experiences and helping make the Mental Health Act law, “two men who opened their heart, and in so doing helped change the law of the land,” as the Speccie puts it.
The fight for fairness, the battle against discrimination, goes on – but, slowly but surely, progress is being made.
• Miliband’s mental health speech needs to be the start of something bigger – 29th October 2012
• The Mental Health Bill is an improvement – 14th September 2012
• It’s time to take mental ill health seriously – 11th February 2012
• Cuts to mental health services could have “devastating consequences” – 1st October 2010