Since 1990, and around this time every year, Mental Health Awareness Week is celebrated. Every year, a different theme is used to explore mental health care and how we might experience mental health problems. This year the focus was on stress. It would seem that in the UK very few of us report living with high levels of good mental health. Indeed, it is estimated that 1 in 6 people will have experienced a common mental health problem in the last week. And if you are female, a young adult, living on a low income, living alone (or in a large household), the risks of experiencing mental health problems are significantly higher than other for others.
Poor mental health is an international issue. Mental health problems are one of the major causes of disability worldwide, with the predominant mental health problems being depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorders.
Each year there is much awareness raising information, which not only informs and challenges stigma, but also describes what we can do to keep ourselves mentally healthy, and increase our well-being. Likewise, when our resilience is too challenged, there are many interventions available to help recovery – from medication, through to talking therapies such a CBT.
As a professor of mental health care for the last 11 years, and a mental health nurse lecturer and practitioner before that for some 30 years, I was very aware of these facts. During Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, I became aware that something wasn’t quite right in my world. Over the past six months, my usual energy has melted away; I’ve lost interest in many of things I’ve enjoyed doing, my mood felt low, I was easily irritated, had no appetite and sleep was an elusive memory.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to concentrate and my self-esteem was at an all-time low. So when the tears that fell silently during the darkness of night started to fall in the sunshine of the day, I realised I had to stop my ‘watchful waiting’ and do something about the black cloak of depression that was wrapped so tightly around me. Like lots of people, for me the first step was to acknowledge that there is something wrong.
In mental health care, the concept of recovery flips the relationship from the doctor being the expert to the patient being the expert and co-creator of what interventions might be the most helpful to ensure a return to a place of well-being. This is the approach my GP and I adopted in planning and reviewing my care.
Despite prescriptions for antidepressants reaching an all-time high (64.7million items were dispensed in England in 2016) we decided that taking them might be helpful in the first instance. Since 2006, there has been a 108% rise in the number of antidepressants dispensed. Partly this is reflected in the steady rise in the numbers of people experiencing a mental health problem.
Although more people appear willing to report and admit mental health problems, economic uncertainty, the daily bombardment of information on social media, and the influence of the media generally on raising the expectations of what life should be like have also been suggested as possible causes. As the Mental Health Foundation notes there is plenty of evidence that shows the association of stressful life events with depression, suicide and suicidality, and self-harm.
As for me, one year on, well I retired from mainstream university life, was awarded the title of Professor Emeritus, became a champion for mindfulness, and walking for mental health and well-being, and feel so much better.
Tony Warne is a Professor Emeritus (Mental Health Care) at the University of Salford. He worked as nurse for 20 years before leaving the NHS in 1995.