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Opinion: Mental ill health really is everywhere - so why are we still lagging behind in terms of treating it?

PUBLISHED: 06:00 10 October 2018 | UPDATED: 08:12 10 October 2018

Mental health stock photo. Picture: Newscast Online

Mental health stock photo. Picture: Newscast Online

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On World Mental Health Day David Powles asks whether progress in tackling the issue is moving fast enough.

There are many reasons why I count myself as incredibly fortunate, and being lucky enough to not have suffered from mental ill health is one of the main ones.

I use the phrase ‘lucky’ because in the last few years my eyes have really been opened up to the fact it is an illness that can strike as randomly as the common cold.

Granted, external factors often play their part, but in reality someone who appears to have everything in their life is just as likely to be struck down as someone who doesn’t.

But it’s only very recently I’ve come to fully appreciate this.

Like many I expect, mental ill health had been something I’d been pretty sheltered from. A close member of my family suffered badly when I was young - but that mostly happened away from anyone’s gaze, their terror and upset muffled by a closed door.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, but my view of mental illness was probably shaped as much by the film One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, as anything else. Did I really once believe most sufferers we’re locked away until deemed fit enough to walk the streets again? Sadly I probably did.

And then something changed. Perhaps it came with getting older, but suddenly mental ill health began to crop up in numerous aspects of my life.

It affected some of my friends and work colleagues, people who I was and still am very close to. Even some of the men in my Sunday league football club, probably about as alpha male as you can get, started to open up about their issues.

My understanding (and hopefully empathy) started to shift as I realised just how normal it is for people to be affected.

Forget the cheesy Wet, Wet, Wet song Love Is All Around, it’s actually mental ill health that’s everywhere, though of course with some people suffering to a much greater extent than others.

That fact probably isn’t news to people any more. A shift in attitude and several high-profile campaigns (hopefully including our own Mental Health Watch) has placed the issue firmly at the top of the agenda.

But I fear that while many millions more have gained the strength to open up and talk about their issues, the pace of change in terms of helping them continues to languish.

But I don’t just mean within the NHS, where a lack of parity of esteem is often the thing that gains the most headlines.

I still think there’s a lack of appreciation that if there are different scales of mental ill health we need to come up with different scales of treatment.

This is no different to how we would treat someone who had broken their leg, compared to someone with a pulled hamstring. Both injuries would massively impair the effectiveness of that leg - but treatment would be very different.

Proper NHS funding, therefore, would be a start. But it would probably be of most benefit to those with the most severest of problems.

For the rest who suffer, the ones who continue with their lives and most of the time it may appear like nothing is wrong, I wonder if we need to find a mental health equivalent to the NHS walk-in or GP surgery? Perhaps that could be within a GP surgery itself, because it’s clear doctors themselves currently don’t have the knowledge needed to effectively be part of the solution.

Even physical illnesses and injuries rely on the general public to help with a cure, whether it be through the placement of defibrillators in a community or the drive to get people trained up in first-aid - so perhaps that’s another magic bullet to help us tackle mental ill health.

Could we see a programme of training in workplaces, villages, towns and organisations where the public are given the knowledge of how to help in a mental health crisis or how to be of aid to someone going through a bad time?

NOTE: Since writing this column the government has announced its first suicide minister and a programme to put more mental health checks into schools. Hopefully a step in the right direction.

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