We desperately need a revolution in the way we approach mental health

woman sat on a chair in the middle of the room, anxierty, mental health

Article by Mark Newey, founder of mental health education platform, Headucate.me

Why on earth do we wait until somebody is really ill before we do anything about mental health. Literally all mental health initiatives are reactive, not proactive. Why?

It is perfectly possible to proactively teach people how to remain mentally well. After all, stress, anxiety and depression are not actually mental illnesses: they are signals from our system telling us that our life’s not working and that we need to change something. But we don’t listen; we try to ignore the signals because we perceive them as illness and weakness. We bottle things up until they spiral out of control and only then is help available.

On a national level, things were already bad before the pandemic and the lockdowns: according to Mind (mind.org.uk) 1 in 6 of us were struggling with stress, anxiety or depression in any one week. However, according to Public Health England (PHE January 2021 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-every-mind-matters-campaign), 46% of people experienced anxiety during the pandemic, with 44% for stress and 46% for low mood.

But the real problem is that the mental health system was already completely inadequate in its ability to provide the necessary care:

  • 1 in 5 people wait over a year for mental health treatment; 1 in 10 wait 2 years (We Need To Talk Coalition)
  • Drop-out rates from NHS-funded talking therapies are as high as 90% in some areas of the country (Mental Health Matters RSA)
  • Only 41.8% of NHS patients complete their therapy programmes (Key Facts and Trends in Mental health 2016 Update: Mental Health Network NHS Confederation)
  • Mental Health problems represent the largest category of NHS “disease” expenditure in the UK (Nuffieldtrust (2015). NHS spending on the top three disease categories in England.)
  • However, 75% of people with mental health problems receive no treatment at all (Naylor, C., Parsonage, M., McDaid, D., Knapp, M., Fossey, M. and Galea, A. (2012). Long-term conditions and mental health: The cost of co-morbidities. London: The King’s Fund.)
  • In 2017, two-thirds of children referred for specialist mental healthcare were not receiving treatment. (Spurgeons children’s charity)

And the political reality is that mental health only receives 13% of the total NHS budget (The Centre for Economic Performance – Mental Health Policy Group, (2012). How mental illness loses out in the NHS. London School of Economics) even though 75% of GP’s visits are stress-related. ((Boone J.L et al. Journal Am Osteo Assoc 2003).

We have to take a proactive approach to mental health right now, as we start coming out of lockdown. The reactive approach not only waits until somebody is ill, but is financially unsustainable.

How do we develop a proactive approach? Most of us are living life on the surface, where it’s so easy to get caught up in a toxic loop of shameful thinking and descending into stress, anxiety and depression. We need to be grounded in who we are, comfortable with who we are, knowing what we want out of life?

The key to mental health is the relationship we have with ourselves and most of us don’t have one: we’re living on a treadmill hidden behind a mask, trying to live the life we think we ought to be and trying to be the person we think we should be.

How do we empower ourselves to live life differently? There are four platforms to mental wellness:

  1. Self-awareness or a deep sense of self which most of us don’t have, because we are unaware of our unconscious biases, programmes and beliefs which lay a huge part in stress, anxiety and depression.
  2. Self-esteem or being comfortable in our own skin, which again, is something very few of us have. The biggest filter of how we create our reality is our feelings about ourselves; if we are ashamed of who we are and wearing a mask pretending to be somebody else, it is very hard for us to find happiness.
  3. Authenticity or being ourselves out in the world: no mask, no hologram. Letting go of the need to worry about what people think of us, takes away huge amounts of stress, anxiety and depression.
  4. Knowing what we want out of life. Most of us focus solely on financial security in terms of what we want out of life, but we need more than that. Especially in today’s alarmingly frantic world, we need to know what makes us happy.

Being “Headucated” in this way is the recipe for mental wellness; not waiting until we’re ill and then going on medication or seeing a therapist. Self-discovery on a national scale would transform the country’s mental health, which is why Headucate.me is setting up a Mental Wellness Taskforce to spread this knowledge and understanding as widely as possible.

To discover more, visit www.headucate.me.

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