[cw: mental health, suicide]
This week saw countries all over the world celebrate Tuesday’s World Mental Health Day. There seems to be a ‘day’ for anything & everything at the moment – in October alone we also have world Taco day (4th) and Pet Obesity Awareness day (12th) – but I’d say a mental health day fully deserves its place.
Counter to a historic lag in reporting on mental health issues, compounding the stigma that characterises the issue in society, media coverage of the poor state of Britain’s mental health is growing all the time. As well as more factual coverage of changing statistics in mental health – young females are by NHS measures now most at risk of mental health crises; the Mental Health Foundation logs mental health statistics by age range and area – we are hearing from a range of different voices.
As a measure of the sheer diversity of the crisis, this month we learnt from The Guardian that police services report on being overwhelmed by mental health issues in their communities; from Vice magazine that 34% of gay and lesbian young adults have attemped suicide, as have 48% of young trans people; from the BBC that university welfare groups are campaigning for better campus provision nationwide after University of York (to take just one example) experienced a spike in acute mental health issues amongst students; and from Mind that Clinical Commissioning Groups (how the NHS structures its spending) are reducing their spend on mental health. Even bubbly YouTube superstar Zoella has posted about her ongoing battle with anxiety – nothing to be sniffed at, with nearly 7 million Twitter followers and 10 million viewers per video, mostly teenagers.
The new BBC1 fly-on-the-wall TV series Ambulance foregrounds poor mental health as one of the biggest pressures on emergency services in any given night. This episode in particular lays bare the scale of the problem.
After the death of my friend by suicide last month, I watched the excellent BBC documentary Life after Suicide which I would highly recommend, and I learnt more about suicide via CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). I’m not enamoured by the #banter element of the campaign, but there’s no denying it’s visible and striking and I’ve since noticed their posters on the tube and in the city.
There’s good news, too: this Wellcome Trust Q&A profiles some fascinating work on the genetics of mental health and how we are learning more about mental health all the time. Employers are being encouraged to consider staff wellbeing, and students and university services are working together to bridge the mental health gap at universities. How this can be replicated on national level, without the same safety nets, is the billion-dollar question.
I’m posting ‘The age of loneliness is killing us’, a much-discussed article by George Monbiot (truly the marmite of the writing world). It discusses the growing mental health crisis in the developed world, but particularly the U.K, partly because of the institutions and structures in society that inhibit our drive for community.
“The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone. For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is no such thing as society, only heroic individualism. What counts is to win. The rest is collateral damage.”
‘Neoliberalism’ is fast becoming the word of 2016, not always used in the right contexts (here’s a definition, to help me as much as anyone), but Monbiot gets pretty well at the essence of it here, and specifically what the economic model does to our individual happiness. Take a read.
The answer to better mental health may be in social change, talking more (both on micro- and macro-level), improved NHS funding, mindfulness, self-help, education, exercise, medication, political reform or any combination of the above. But where the personal is political, we can remember to show love whenever we can. This piece by Lora Mathis says it all.