Home Mental Health & Well-Being Mental Health Awareness Week: Psychotherapist Reflects on the Reasons Behind the UK Mental Health Crisis

Mental Health Awareness Week: Psychotherapist Reflects on the Reasons Behind the UK Mental Health Crisis

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The mental health crisis in the UK is now a stark reality, and the numbers are no longer shocking to most.

There are now hundreds of studies showcasing the increasing number of individuals experiencing ill mental health, those who have been signed off work, the length of waiting lists for access to services, and how much this is all costing the UK economy.

The prime minister’s recent speech on welfare and the emphasis on repairing the fast-developing “sicknote culture” in the UK have also brought attention to the numbers of “economically inactive” individuals, an issue inherently linked to the mental health crisis.

But being aware of the issue doesn’t mean having the answers. What exactly has led to these concerning numbers, and how can we stop them from growing further?

During Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s more vital than ever to reflect on these questions. Leading mental health expert Nathan Shearman, director of therapy and training at Red Umbrella and qualified psychotherapist and counsellor, shares his expertise.

What do the numbers tell us?

“There’s nothing new in terms of the numbers of people who are economically inactive,” begins Nathan.

“We know that around 47% of all working days lost due to ill health are due to mental health reasons. This doesn’t seem to be discussed in as much detail as it should be, which becomes part of the problem.

“However, the language around it is interesting. Economically inactive implies that people who have been signed off from work are not contributing to the country’s economy. That misses the fact that there are a lot of people who genuinely want to work but simply cannot. It is very much a mental health issue, which we seem to be dancing around.”

What’s the link between mental health and physical health?

“Mental health and physical health are closely correlated. There are a range of physical health symptoms that are caused by stress or other mental health conditions, like anxiety. It’s a blurry line.

“We know about that 47%, but there is a significant proportion of people with physical health issues that are preventing them from working, which are caused by their mental health.

“They may have reported them as physical health issues because of stigma or just unknowingly. This means that in reality, we are looking at a number that’s much higher than that 47%.”

Are more people struggling with mental health now, or is there just more awareness?

“I think there’s an element of both. Just a few years ago, if you were struggling with your mental health, not only would you never tell your employer, you wouldn’t even go to your doctor because it would then be on your medical records.

“The stigma around it was incredibly strong. Over the last maybe five years or so, however, the culture around this has started to change.

“As stigma is decreasing in society, but also in the workplace, we’re seeing more of these issues being vocalised and support being put in place. But that’s certainly not the case with every organisation, and there’s lots more work to be done on this front.”

Have the pressures of modern workplaces brought on an increase in mental health issues?

“Partly. If we think about biology, for example, a biological response to anxiety is a very normal process. Back when we were living in caves and there was a sabre-toothed tiger on the horizon, that fight or flight response was really helpful for keeping us alive.

“The problem is, now our anxieties revolve around work deadlines, how our next review is going to go, and whether we are getting along with our colleagues. That’s what triggers that fight or flight response, but often we can’t ‘fight’ it or run away from it. So, this biological response is no longer helpful, and we’re just left holding all of that anxiety in.”

What about modern society?

“Modern society certainly has a role to play. We’re living in a world that, as human beings, we’re not really equipped to deal with.

“For instance, due to current economic conditions, companies are much more concerned about economic viability. This means there’s more pressure with regards to deadlines and targets.

“But we’re also seeing a lot of anxiety at the moment around AI and whether that’s going to replace people’s roles. That’s a big fear for a lot of people, and many feel lost within their career as a result.

“There’s also the fact that we are constantly connected. There’s a lot to be said about mobile phones and the internet, which can be a wonderful thing in keeping people connected and being able to access support, but it also means we never get to switch off. And that has an impact as well.”

Whose responsibility is it to “repair” the mental health crisis?

“There’s always an element of personal responsibility, where there are steps that people who are struggling will need to take in order to get well, but they can’t do that on their own.

“That’s where the government has a huge responsibility in terms of providing the services needed, and that’s where a big part of this issue lies. Due to budget cuts over the years, mental health services are significantly underfunded, meaning the lead time for counselling and therapy is huge, sometimes even six months.

“This then leads into the fact that there’s a big responsibility falling on employers, who are now having to step up to fill some of those gaps, such as through mental health first aid, employee assistance programs, counselling and therapy services, or mental health awareness training.

“Providing these services is a step in the right direction, and though we have certainly seen improvements, there are many more businesses that have yet to put support systems in place to safeguard their staff.”

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