Mental health and the new age of openness
Nobody would say that the human brain is an easy thing to understand. In fact, many of its workings remain a bit of a mystery to scientists even now, with all the technical wizardry available. But giant steps have been made, and for those of us who experience mental health issues, there is a far greater range of help and support available as compared to what existed for previous generations.
And one of the biggest developments in mental health has been the lessening of stigma and much more open attitudes towards common conditions like depression and stress. Many celebrities and sports people – as well as prominent political figures – have opened up about their own experiences, making it easier for all of us to talk about what we’re going through. Things that once perhaps would never have been mentioned are spoken about quite readily in interviews – with the added benefit of showing very clearly that mental health issues can affect people regardless of how successful they are in life or what their occupation may be.
The first thing to note about mental health issues is that while they may once have been a taboo subject, they are in fact very common. One of the leading UK mental health charities – Mind – states that one in six people in the UK workplace is experiencing stress, depression or anxiety at any one time. Which pretty much means that if we haven’t experienced any of these ourselves, the chances are that we know someone who has, or is currently affected by one of them.
Proactive approaches to mental health issues
In terms of the workplace, mental health has become a much more prominent issue. In 2012, hospital admissions for stress rose by 7% and this sharp increase was widely believed to have its roots in recessionary factors. It’s hardly surprising in a time of recession that people are more likely to feel under pressure to perform – but when pressure becomes stress, it can have a negative impact on the very performance that people are trying to maximise.
Many employers these days have a workplace wellbeing policy – and promoting the mentally healthy workplace is becoming more and more common too. Additionally some organisations also have employee assistance programme (EAP) which usually takes the form of a third-party provided service allowing people access to assistance if they’re experiencing things like divorce or bereavement. By taking a proactive approach to mental health, employers are not only helping staff wellbeing, it’s also an effective means of lowering the rates of sickness absence and increasing productivity – healthy employees in a health focussed workplace.
In terms of what we can do ourselves as individuals to take a proactive approach to mental health, the most important is, of course, to speak to a GP if there’s a concern regarding depression or any other issue. We’re all different, and different solutions and treatments are required depending on the individual – in many cases talking therapies such as CBT are recommended, while in other cases a course of medication may be prescribed.
In a wider context, it’s also beneficial to have some understanding of various common mental health problems – since in some cases people may be experiencing (for instance depression) without knowing it. The NHS and other healthcare providers have a range of factsheets on numerous medical and health topics, with common mental health topics included.
A lot of the things we can do to help prevent depression are the same things that are recommended for health generally. Exercise in particular is often cited as something that works as a powerful mood booster and can help prevent depression. Then there’s the stuff like keeping within recommended safe limits for alcohol consumption. According to the independent UK charity Drink Aware, alcohol when consumed regularly can reduce the levels of the feelgood brain chemical serotonin.
While the old saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ may not have any proveable basis in terms of its arithmetic, many people undoubtedly find talking about their experiences a useful way of gaining greater understanding. Campaigns such as Time to Talk encourage openness highlight the value of open and tactful communication surrounding mental health. And later this month, one UK healthcare provider is holding an online Live Chat with resident mental health experts – an open forum where anyone can drop in and find out more about the condition, or seek the experts’ advice on managing depression or recognising the symptoms.
The Mental Health Foundation’s A-Z contains some clear and useful facts about depression and info on complementary medicine, therapies and medication as well as information on the signs and symptoms of depression.