Shortly after my 21st Birthday I suddenly found that I was unable to speak. I was standing in the middle of an optician when I realized that I could not form a sentence to the service adviser talking to me. It was one of the most frightening and bewildering experiences of my life that lasted for over a year when my brain decided to shut down and close off all its ability to communicate. I can still remember this long episode with absolute clarity which encompassed isolation, fear, loneliness, and a sense that my normal life would never resurface. At this time, there was no diagnosis for my condition or medical understanding which left the Doctors to prescribe tranquilizers which is not a practice that is encouraged today. The stigma of any abnormality with the functioning brain was looked upon as a condition that held little merit and perceived as a failing in one’s character. A subject that was discussed in hush voices for fear of accidental contamination and certainly not for public consumption or an open discussion with friends, family or colleagues.
Luckily that has all changed and why I celebrate this week. There has been enormous progress through awareness, new charities and a clearer understanding that the brain can also suffer illnesses along with the body and are not separate entities. The meaning of any illness refers to deep-seated attitudes and beliefs a culture holds about whether an illness is “real” or “imagined,” whether it is of the body or the mind (or both), whether it warrants sympathy, how much stigma surrounds it, what might cause it, and what type of person might succumb to the illness. Recent Figures from a survey which is carried out in England every seven years, measured the number of people who have diverse types of mental health problems. It was last published in 2016 and reported Figures obtained from leading charity Mind state that Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. However, on a very positive note, the survey shows that people are becoming more tolerant and understanding of people with mental health issues. Nine in ten people (91%) agreed that we need to adopt a more tolerant attitude towards people with mental health problems in our society.
HELP IS AT HAND
- TIME TO CHANGE (TTC) was formed in 2009 by mental health charities MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, aiming to reduce mental health-related stigma and discrimination. A specific objective was to reduce stigma and discrimination by 5 per cent in the first 12 months. The first four years were funded by grants of £20.5 million from the Big Lottery Fund and Comic Relief. According to Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, 500 EMPLOYERS have taken a pledge, which commits them to address the taboos around mental health. Ms Baker says, “There are millions of people who are less productive because they are not getting help,” she says. “It costs industry more to ignore mental health and shove it under the carpet than to deal with it.” Pizza Hut Restaurants is one of the firms that has signed up to the TTC charity’s pledge. “We have 8,000 people from age 16, to people who’ve worked for us for 30 years,” says the firm’s head of communications Gareth Hopley. “The aim is to try to create a culture that says it’s ok to put your hand up and say I’m struggling,” he says. They launched a turnaround programme a couple of years ago, a conscious effort was made to focus on improving staff well-being. The firm has introduced an internal social network called No Shame which encourages discussion of embarrassing topics including mental health, to lessen the stigma around it. Around half of the company’s staff use it, says Mr Hopley. There’s also a 24-hour helpline for staff to get advice on anything from anxiety and addictions, to relationships, dieting and fitness.
MIND provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to Improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. Because of Mind, millions more people have access to advice and support thanks to information and services nationally and locally, in England and Wales. They are building on change, but know there is much more to do. Local Minds support over 390,000 people across England and Wales. Their services include supported housing, crisis helplines, drop-in centres, employment and training schemes, counselling and befriending. Over more than 60 years Mind has worked to improve the lives of all people with experience of mental health problems. Through public campaigns, government lobbying and more than 1,000 services local Minds have delivered in communities across England and Wales, and touched millions of lives.
- BBC RADIO FIVE LIVE is currently running a year-long State of Mind season, which takes an in-depth look at our mental health. As part of 5 live’s State of Mind season, Nicky Campbell explains how running helps with his mental health #whyirun. There are many articles on line to help, inspire and motivate for anyone who is needing encouragement and more advice.
- RICHARD BRANSON is currently promoting Virgin Money CEO Jayne-Anne Gadhia new book, “The Virgin Banker”. One of the key themes of the book is mental health where Jayne-Anne explains how she has lived with mental health issues for various periods of her life. She highlights the need for the financial industry, and business in general, to develop an openness to discuss and to deal with the mental issues that affect many of us as human beings. Stress and depression tend not to feature as conversation topics at City dinners nor on anyone’s CV. Richard is proud that she’s chosen to speak out, he says “mental health issues are real and we must do all we can to support people who may be suffering” Richard has also stated that he is proud of the work Virgin Money are doing in this space. Virgin Money chose Heads Together, which aims to de-stigmatize mental health issues in all walks of life, as the London Marathon Charity of the Year and all the proceeds of Jayne-Anne’s book will go to them.
- VIRGIN MANAGEMENT are also leading a Group-wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, focusing on mental health. They are using the Virgin Pulse wellbeing platform to instigate a weekly digital detox to encourage staff not to become digitally overwhelmed in their roles and to instead focus on their wider wellbeing.
- HEADS TOGETHER has shone the brightest light on Mental Health issues since it was launched last year. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are spearheading the Heads Together campaign to end stigma around mental health. Heads Together aims to change the national conversation on mental health and wellbeing, and is a partnership with inspiring charities with decades of experience in tackling stigma, raising awareness, and providing vital help for people with mental health challenges.
There has been huge progress made to tackle stigma surrounding mental health in recent decades, but it remains a key issue driven by negative associations, experience and language. Through this campaign, Their Royal Highnesses are keen to build on the magnificent work that is already taking place across the country, to ensure that people feel comfortable with their everyday mental wellbeing, feel able to support their friends and families through tough times, and that stigma no longer prevents people getting help they need. I signed up immediately to be a volunteer and have applauded all their efforts to start open conversations around any problems and anxieties that any person can encounter. None of us can get through mental health difficulties without being willing to have an open conversation
- HUFFINGTON POST founder, Arianna Huffington has launched her new Company “Thrive Global” in November 2016. The idea is to take her wellness evangelism to a whole new level. The company is tapping into every tool (and business model) it can think of for promoting emotional and physical well-being in the workplace: training companies how to measure and promote employee wellness; serving as a new media hub for conversations about wellness; and selling a bunch of products designed to help people along that path—from non-pharmacological sleep aids, to meditation guides, to smartphone-silencing accessories.
Wherever you are on your journey, there is more help today than ever before which is liberating and building up to a more supportive and inclusive culture for those with any emotional difficulties. So, let’s celebrate this week!