For too many people, the issue of mental health – whether good or poor – is still the elephant in the room. At Mind Cymru, we’re working hard to change this and encourage everyone to think about how to take care of their mental health and wellbeing.
Mental health problems are often misunderstood and seen as scary or daunting meaning that people don’t want to talk about them, let alone admit to having them. Yet one in four people will experience a mental health problem in anyone year. Quite often this will be stress, anxiety or depression but less frequently this might include problems like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or bipolar disorder.
Lack of understanding and unwillingness to talk can lead to fear and discrimination. In Wales, 46 per cent of people think that people who have experienced depression are unsuitable to work as primary school teachers. Likewise, 66 per cent of people inWales would not rent a room in a shared flat to someone with a mental health problem. In these circumstances, it’s easy to see why people feel differently about telling family, friends or employers that they have a mental health problem than they would about saying that they have a physical health problem.
Negative attitudes can put people off from seeking help and support for mental health problems at an early stage. This means people struggle for longer than they need to. Men, in particular, are likely to ‘self-medicate’ through drinking or turning to drugs. When people do visit their GP, they might be faced with limited options for treatment. Waiting lists for counselling or other types of talking therapies vary acrossWales.
The good news is that there is a real desire to change things for the better. This isn’t to say that everything related to mental health – services, attitudes, treatment – will improve overnight. Mind Cymru is well aware of a variety of problems with current systems. However, there is genuine cross-party support at the National Assembly forWalesto improve the mental health and wellbeing of people inWales. The Mental Health Measure is in the process of being implemented, hopefully bringing benefits for anyone who has or develops a mental health problem. This should mean a more personal assessment of the treatment and support that someone needs when they first visit their doctor, people being able to self-refer themselves back to more specialist secondary care services, and an increase in the number of people who qualify for an independent mental health advocate when they’re in hospital.
But looking after and improving mental health inWalesisn’t all about legislation and statutory support. Support often comes from friends, families or work colleagues. Often people are worried about saying or doing the ‘wrong’ thing. This is where training courses like Mental Health First Aid are invaluable – not in teaching people to be experts or counsellors, but just how to spot the signs of someone who might be experiencing a mental health problem and how to offer initial help. We’re on course to have trained 10,000 Mental Health First Aiders inWalesthis autumn.
Many of them are using their skills in the workplace. The difficult economic situation means that lots of people are worried about their future and work prospects. Poor mental health at work costs British business £26 billion a year. Mind’s ‘Taking care of business’ campaign aims to make workplaces more mentally healthy, offering advice to employers and employees in large organisations, as well as small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), on how to improve mental health at work. Interventions don’t have to be costly. Simple things like making sure people take regular breaks and have the chance to discuss any concerns can make a big impact.
If people are reluctant to discuss mental health, bringing up the issue of suicide is even more of a taboo. However, when people start to talk, it becomes obvious that so many people have been affected by suicide. Mind Cymru’s Positive Choices project aims to reduce the rate of suicide and self harm acrossWales. Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) gives people the confidence to broach the subject with someone who may be having thoughts of suicide and guides them through how to provide support.
Of course, it’s not true that everyone is unwilling to discuss mental health. At last year’s Royal Welsh Show and Eisteddfod, Mind Cymru found young people in particular keen to talk. And with the launch of Time to Change Wales, a national campaign challenging the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems, earlier this year, there’s a real chance to improve everyone’s understanding of mental health and wellbeing.
General – mind.org.uk
Taking care of business – mind.org.uk/employment
Mental Health First Aid (Wales) – mhfa-wales.org.uk
Positive Choices – positivechoices-wales.org
Time to Change Wales – timetochangewales.org.uk