If you’ve never had a conversation about mental health then today, World Mental Health Day, is a very good day to start.
First celebrated 15 years ago, this awareness day aims to educate and unite people around the globe to make it easier to talk about mental health. And this year’s theme couldn’t be more important – suicide prevention.
Mental Health is a subject very close to my heart, having touched many people I know. I truly believe in the sentiment that ‘there is no health without mental health’ – a notion credited to the first Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Brock Chisholm.
A look back at the history of the Mental Health Foundation is quite revealing. Founded 70 years ago it aimed to address the imbalance in physical and mental health funding. Its first project was dedicated to treating the mental health of soldiers returning from the Second World War. Later, in 1952, it also started to tackle stigma.
Yet today stigma remains a top priority. It seems that despite all these years of campaigning, research and the emergence of other charities, trusts and organisations dedicated to the same cause, beating stigma is still a major challenge in some circles.
I was personally shocked to encounter just how brutal stigma can be while campaigning for a new mental health care home for our client Meallmore. A small opposition group formed to try and stop the construction of the home. Fuelled by stigma and a general lack of knowledge and understanding, they spread unpleasant rumours of people living with mental health conditions.
Although it was generally a minority view, and one that had been somewhat influenced by TV portrayals of mental health – Jean Slater from Eastenders in particular – it was still upsetting. While mental health is very complex and can range from anxiety to more severe conditions, it’s not an excuse to avoid understanding it or treating it differently from a physical health condition.
With 1 in 4 of us expected to suffer from a mental health problem, it is vital people start to give it the recognition it deserves. It’s reassuring to see that our industry bodies – the CIPR and the PRCA – have both made efforts to research, recognise and provide guidance on mental health in the workplace. As stress in our lives continues to increase, whether due to work, personal or wider economic or social issues, we must work together to help implement this change.
I’m pleased to say that we overturned the anti-campaign against our client and Meallmore successfully opened its care home with no complaints or issues in the local community. We ended up winning an award for this work, but it didn’t really feel like we were winning in the wider sense.
Everyone deserves the right not to be anxious about mental health. We shouldn’t be frightened to ask for help, to say that we feel sad, or down, or that we’re just struggling. If we had a broken leg, the flu or any other physical illness we would ask for help and take the steps needed to get well.
With one person losing their life to suicide every 40 seconds, more needs to be done to stop it. I’m delighted to see that mental health first aid courses are becoming increasingly accessible and I’m signed up to complete mine later this month. I think it should be a requirement for all businesses to have a qualified mental health first aider as well as a physical first aider.
This World Mental Health Day is encouraging everyone to take just ‘40 seconds of action’ to help. Whether it is starting a conversation or even sharing this blog on social media, it might just help raise more awareness and help more people to understand. #40seconds #WorldMentalHealthDay