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It’s time to have a different conversation around mental health

PUBLISHED: 13:40 18 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:55 18 February 2020

OPEN Up event Photocall. David Powles Editor of EDP, Hayley Gerrard - OPEN, Nelsons Journey - Jess Moses, Ormiston Families - Volunteers, Active Norfolk- Sam Watts, Leeway| Domestic Abuse Charity- Gabriella Harvey Mobbs, Wellbeing Service- Ben Ryan, Helen Bridge & Gemma Nobbs from Aviva and Lambert Construction- sponsors. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

OPEN Up event Photocall. David Powles Editor of EDP, Hayley Gerrard - OPEN, Nelsons Journey - Jess Moses, Ormiston Families - Volunteers, Active Norfolk- Sam Watts, Leeway| Domestic Abuse Charity- Gabriella Harvey Mobbs, Wellbeing Service- Ben Ryan, Helen Bridge & Gemma Nobbs from Aviva and Lambert Construction- sponsors. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

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It’s time to start having a different conversation around mental health, says editor David Powles.

Caroline Flack at a book-signing in Norwich in 2015. Picture: Denise BradleyCaroline Flack at a book-signing in Norwich in 2015. Picture: Denise Bradley

When this newspaper launched its long-running Mental Health Watch campaign we came up with a manifesto of 10 things that we felt needed to be fixed to improve the situation at that time.

Five years on, some have progressed but sadly many have not.

Fairer funding remains a pipe dream, the region's trust has improved but not by enough and it's a similar story regarding waiting times, the postcode lottery and out-of-area placements.

If we were to produce a school report on the progress it would say 'shown improvement but must do better'.

However, there is one area that I believe progress has been made and that is towards ending the stigma that existed around mental ill health and people who were suffering.

Our manifesto said at the time: "A recent study by the Young Minds charity found a stigma is still attached to mental health and said mental health is associated with negative connotations, so people do not want to admit to having problems. People of all ages need to be encouraged to speak up so the issue can be properly tackled."

Half a decade on I believe this has changed.

Yes, of course there are still too many people who suffer in silence, but as a society we have become both more willing to talk about our own mental health, but also more understanding of others when they chose to do so.

I believe a far smaller proportion of the general public would feel uncomfortable discussing their own personal situation, than would have done back in 2015. That's something we should continue to improve upon, but that we can also be proud of.

And it's also why the focus needs to change.

Only now that more and more people are willing to speak up, are we finding out the true scale of the problem. The number of people suffering some form of mental ill health is staggering and stark.

And with that comes the problem of how do we cope with the increase in demand on support services that creates?

It's unrealistic to think that statutory services or charities will be given a substantial enough amount of extra money to meet demand. They are already stretched and only likely to get more so.

Over time I believe our mental health trusts will largely have to focus on the most severe cases of mental ill health, where a serious episode has occurred or a life is at risk.

And that poses questions over those people who don't come under these categories. The people off work with anxiety, the new mums lonely and depressed, the youngsters struggling with stress.

We can no longer wait for someone else to pick up the baton and deal with the wellbeing problems so many face in their day to day lives.

Therefore the conversation needs to focus on what we all can do to help. What role can we play in our day-to-day lives of reducing this epidemic.

Can we make our workplaces better geared up towards dealing with people's problems? How do we instil in youngsters greater resilience so they do not suffer later in life - or can at least self-manage when they do? How can parents be made more aware of what signs to look out for and what to do when they occur?

And, as has been shown in the tragic death of Caroline Flack, how can we all become more understanding of not just our own frailties, but other people's too and take to our hearts the TV presenter's own mantra to 'be nice, be kind'.

* Some of these issues mentioned above will be the focus of our own mental health event, Open Up at Open, which takes place on Friday, March 6 at Open, in Bank Plain Norwich. It's free to enter and available to absolutely anyone. I do hope you will consider attending.

For more information visit our website.

OUR MANIFESTO LAUNCHED IN OCTOBER 2015

Fairer funding

End the stigma

No more out of area placements

Encourage schools to play their part

Reduce waiting times

Out of special measures

No more postcode lottery

Work as one Trust

Reduce agency staff spend

Raise awareness

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