It’s Ok to not be Ok…

People rarely talk about mental health. We need to. For some reason, mental illness is still medicine’s taboo.   An important time in the UK is mental health awareness week.  A new survey released by the Mental Health Foundation found that only 13% of people in the UK report living with high levels of good mental health.  13%?  That’s a lot of us who aren’t doing so well, and yet we don’t talk about it!

Hopefully, this is starting to change. Recently Prince Harry spoke openly about how he struggled following his mother’s death. Could this be the beginning of the end of stigma? Let’s hope so. The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that if we don’t act fast, by 2030 mental health problems will be the leading cause of disease burden world-wide.

What is mental health?

There are many definitions, but the WHO defines it as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” You can find out your good mental health score here.

Mental Health Problems

When people think of mental illness they may conjure up an image of Victorian Asylums, or scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest.  It’s not really like either of those.  Mental illness can and does, affect people from all walks of life.  Just like anyone can break a bone, anyone’s mental health can suffer. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, how rich you are, your age, race,  gender or religion (although there are some demographic trends).

The commonest disorders include generalized anxiety disorder and depression. Rarer illnesses include psychosis and bipolar disorder. The treatments available depend on the effect the illness is having on an individual’s life and the type of illness itself.  Click here to learn more.

 Some Stats

  • One in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health problem in any year
  • 4-10% of people will experience depression in their lifetime
  • 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24
  • Mental health problems are responsible for 28% of burden of disease in UK (compared to 16% for cancer and heart disease)
  • 1 in 15 people have attempted suicide (which is linked to mental distress) at some point in their life
  • Only 5.5% (£115 million) of the health research budget is spent on mental health
  • The estimated costs of mental health problems in the UK is £70-100millon each year

Fear and Stigma

Many people do not talk about their problems or seek help for fear of discrimination. Sadly, 9 in 10 people with mental health problems say they have experienced stigma because of their illness. Why is this? There is a multitude of possible reasons. Is it because those with mental illness are portrayed by the media as violent and dangerous?(actually they are more at risk of being harmed themselves than harming others). Is it because we still know very little about the root causes of mental illness? Is it because you can’t diagnose depression with a blood test (yet)? Whatever the reasons, this needs to change.  People don’t get judged for having cancer or for breaking a bone. People shouldn’t get judged for having a mental health problem.

What can we do?

Talk to each other. Listen to one another. Ask your friends, family, work colleagues how they are doing.  If you are struggling to speak to your GP and ask for help.We can all improve our mental health by trying some self-care techniques, such as relaxing by taking a bath or going for a walk, exercising and eating well.  But most importantly, remember, it’s ok to not be ok. 

Related articles: Depression World’s Leading Illness – what’s next? Are your nightmares putting you at risk for suicide?

If you are in need of urgent medical attention, please see your GP, or if they are unavailable your local A&E.  Urgent medical advice can be accessed by phoning NHS on 111.

For further support visit: Mind, Samaritans, Rethink Mental Illness
If you are a healthcare professional wanting peer support visit Tea and Empathy

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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. An online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

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About hannaharnstein (13 Articles)
I am a psychiatry trainee working in the North East, but currently on maternity leave. Outside of medicine, other than writing I enjoy all things geek, baking and reading.

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