BLOG: The much-needed sea-change in attitudes towards mental health – for the many, not just the few

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Nicola Wilson writes on changing attitudes towards mental health

12th May 2021

Recent data evidences the rise in the numbers of people with experience of mental and emotional distress, and mental health referrals made since the pandemic hit just over a year ago. Even before COVID-19, the prevalence of mental illness among adults was increasing. Mental health conditions are increasing worldwide and now cause a startling 1 in 5 years lived with disability.

However, perhaps what has been missing in the past when we witnessed the exponential rise, is the correlation in the court of public opinion groundswell on the normalcy of mental ill health. In Mental Health Awareness Week, it gladdens my heart to see so many of our younger generations – for purpose of discussion I am referring to Generation Y and younger – normalising mental health conditions and attitudes towards people with experience of mental and emotional distress, by way of example using the hashtag #itsoktonotbeok.

Perhaps the long-awaited sea-change is happening? Our younger generations are calling us out on our outdated language and attitudes, and rightly so. Calling into question and challenging historically used, micro-aggressive terminology and labelling such as ‘mental health ‘issues’ and, my personal pet-peeve, the use of the phrase ‘committed suicide’ when decriminalisation was passed onto the statute books in 1961.

Perhaps it is only through looking at the subject through the younger generations’ eyes that we can attain a parity of esteem between physical and mental health terminology and attitudes? I have certainly been influenced to think differently by the younger members of our team and their fresh perspectives and ideals. It is not solely within this context of equality, diversity, and inclusion that we can learn from our younger people’s examples. They have been equally instrumental in breaking down barriers within other contexts and protecting the right to not be discriminated against for your racial heritage, who you choose to love and who you identify as.

We can only get so far though, in the court of public opinion. Our cultural attitudes undergoing a re-education must be underpinned by increased investment on multiple fronts …. mental health awareness campaigns, increasing access to quality and effective mental health treatment, and research into identifying new treatment pathways. Whilst the ITV campaign ‘Britain Get Talking’ is further evidence of the sea-change taking place, my working knowledge of the already onerous demand for mental health services, especially evidence-based talking therapies, still gives me cause for significant concern in so far that supply cannot meet the demand.

It will come as no surprise, therefore, that we at the NHSA are committed in our support of Mental Health Awareness Week and the physical health, mental health and wellbeing of our staff. We have recently undertaken an organisational approach to creating a mental health and wellbeing in the workplace charter, an incredibly illuminating process helping us to examine our strengths and blind spots as individuals, teams and as an organisation.

Additionally, we are bringing together our NHSA members, the wider network of NHS mental health trusts, academic partners and industry for a project destined to accelerate innovation in mental health at scale across the North. One aspect of the project will be supporting mental health interventions in the workplace. Whilst still in its very early stage, we are incredibly proud of the ground-breaking potential this project holds in bringing together Northern mental health expertise and centres of excellence to address unmet need within SME and large workforces.

To say that good mental health is a right and not a privilege could never be over-stated, and it is my enduring hope that we are future proofing ourselves through innovative ideas and the generations coming up behind us…letting them lead us by way of their example.

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