Words by Anastasia Freer
Mental Health can be a daunting subject, with the reality that one in four people in the UK are affected by a mental illness highlighting how much it impacts society. As the likelihood that someone will experience or know someone who has experienced mental illness is high, in a modern society surely acceptance and empathy are common place?
Guess again, the fact that in 2014 it was found that “contact with mental health services is perceived as the second most stigmatising experience for people experiencing mental health problems and for their families” only brings to light the crisis that is present with regards to mental health.
In the ‘Time to Change‘ report conducted in 2013 on National Attitudes. it was found that ‘nearly half (49%) of respondents said they would feel uncomfortable talking to an employer about their own mental health’. In light of this it could be said that those grappling with their own mental health face reservation with regards to disclosure. After all the stigma that mental health is shrouded in with regards to media portrayal hasn’t truly changed, despite condemnation towards those who voice discriminatory views with regards to mental health such as that of Katie Hopkins, the sheer fact that these views remain present in people’s opinions reflects a lack of change.
Though in 2013, Sue Baker the Director of ‘Time to Change’ stressed the changes that have taken place with the statistic that ‘An estimated two million people in England have improved their attitudes towards those of us with mental health problems over the last two years, adding evidence to the societal change we’ve started to witness.’ The problem still remains that people are tolerant of intolerant views in a time where surely they should be outwardly challenged.
It comes as no real surprise that in the run up to the election mental health has been brought up as a topic for discussion. Considering that as an area it has been pushed to the forefront of government in recent years with regards to published documentation by bodies such as the Department of Health. As Nick Clegg’s recent move to pledge £3.5bn in funding for mental health over the next parliament in the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment pledge, shows the shift towards support of mental health services.
Then again it could just be a desperate attempt to gain support by showing sympathy with regards to an area of health that has for so long been the Cinderella service. In any case, the government has remained ignorant of the fact that mental health services remain under-resourced and pressured. Besides the government doesn’t really seem to consider the ideas people who use the mental health service let alone the practitioners who work in partnership with them. Since in spite of the government’s plans to improve access to services, people with mental illness have to continue to wait to receive the care they desperately need or otherwise face the push to take medication.
Drawing from this, it is apparent that mental health has had a number of improvements in recent years with regards to public opinion and changing government policy. All the same, the isolation that those who have a mental illness experience as a result of this very fact is outdated and insupportable as people shouldn’t be defined by their mental health.
In the ‘Time to Change’ report from 2013 with regards to language furthers this as the word ‘willingness’ to for example live next door to someone with a mental illness was used in the report and it stresses a clear divide. After all would you be unwilling to live with someone with who was known to have a physical disability? Moreover, the findings in the report that those between the ages of 16-34 held the least positive attitudes towards mental health emphasises the changes that need to take place.
Considering that education is essential in promoting awareness, it’s clear that the way for young adults to develop positive attitude towards mental health lies in promoting these values throughout their time in education in order to target stigma head on. Mark Winstanley the CEO of Rethink Mental Illness in 2013 said ‘Stigma ruins lives – and for some people, it means not only having to deal with a serious illness, but also having to keep it a secret’ and this secrecy cannot continue. As mental health should not be kept a secret nor should it be a cause of isolation or shame and for change to ever be achieved empathy and understanding need to be opinions held by the majority, not a minority.
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