The last blog in the series of blog posts following World Mental Health Day on Saturday 10 October is from Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, the mental health charity. In this blog, Paul Farmer talks about the importance of tackling mental health stigma, the launch of the #smallthings campaign and the royal visit to Mind in Harrow.
World Mental Health Day is always a big, inspiring day but 2015 was something of a milestone because, at Mind, we were enormously proud to welcome the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to one of our projects. Among all the frenzy of preparation and the excitement of the day itself, the significance of the event was not lost on any of us. It was evidence of how far we have come in raising the profile of mental health in recent years.
In my time working in mental health over the last 25 years, awareness has grown and public attitudes are definitely beginning to change. This is in part down to our anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change, which we run with Rethink Mental Illness. We now talk about mental health much more openly, with some amazing high-profile ambassadors (like Mind’s President, Stephen Fry) to lead the way. There is huge appetite in the media for mental health-related stories and reporting is getting better and better all time. Meanwhile, soap operas and dramas are exploring storylines with greater sensitivity and, in the process, are bringing mental health right into people’s living rooms.
Yet some of us are still struggling to start the conversation. A survey by Time to Change for World Mental Health Day revealed that nearly a third of people in England would feel uncomfortable asking someone close to them about their mental health problem. When asked why, the top reasons people gave were that they would worry that it would make the other person feel uncomfortable or embarrassed and that they wouldn’t know what to say.
That’s why Time to Change is so important and why last week we launched the #smallthings campaign. The campaign aims to highlight the small things we can all do to help someone close to us who might be experiencing mental health problems. Just asking someone how they’re doing or inviting them round for a cup of tea can help to let people know that you’re thinking about them and make a big difference to how they’re feeling. We are building up a bank of tips on the Time to Change website, contributed by people with experience of mental health problems and those closest to them. They are worth a look if you don’t know where to start.
It’s especially important that we get young people talking about mental health. The project the Duke and Duchess were visiting on Saturday was 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 to 30 year-olds who have experienced mental health problems to go into the college and talk to young people.
Around 1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem – three children in every classroom – and of course all young people should be looking after their wellbeing, whether or not they have a diagnosable condition. Five of our local Minds have come together to deliver the Mindkit programme and the royal visit was at Harrow College, where volunteers trained up by Mind in Harrow have been delivering sessions to students to help them improve their mental wellbeing.
Tackling stigma is so important, but it isn’t all we need to do. As we teach our children to be aware of their mental health and encourage them to seek help, we must make sure that services are there to give them the help they need, when they need it.
We know that, at the moment, NHS mental health services are really struggling to cope with demand. After years of neglect, funding cuts over the last few years have really taken their toll and many people just aren’t getting the help they need. NHS mental health services need urgent and significant investment if they are to deliver the kind of care we take for granted when it comes to our physical yet is so sorely lacking for our mental health.
We also need to see genuine acceptance of the notion that mental health goes far beyond the remit of the NHS. Mental health is affected by and has an impact on, every area of our lives, so each and every government department, public service, employer, school, college and university needs to be looking at what it can do to support and improve mental wellbeing.
One in four of us will experience a mental health problem between now and the next World Mental Health Day. A lot can happen in a year. I hope that this time next year we will be several steps closer to Mind’s vision, which is that everyone with a mental health problem gets both support and respect.