Today is World Mental Health Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of both mental health issues and the effect that mental illness has on people’s lives around the world. This year’s theme is around psychological first aid and the support people can provide to those in distress.
The Mental Health Foundation estimates that one in six people will have experienced a mental health problem in the last week. This is an issue which affects us all, directly or indirectly, yet two thirds of those who have been in crisis report later that they felt isolated and unsupported at the time.
The social stigma around mental illness can prevent a person from asking for help, while the prevailing stereotypes of what mental illness looks like can lead people to suffer in silence rather than “wasting” a doctor’s time because they don’t think their symptoms are severe enough. However, if anyone is experiencing thoughts or feelings that make it hard to cope with the normal stresses of living, and prevent them from realising their potential and getting on with their life, then they should seek support.
So, what can we do to support others?
First we can look out for the warning signs that may indicate a person is having issues with their mental health. These could include:
1. A person becoming more withdrawn, losing interest in the things they usually enjoy, changes in the way that individual behaves and in their energy levels.
2. A person might seem to be more anxious or emotionally vulnerable than usual. Do not wait for the person to ask for your support, tell them that you are worried about them and that you want to help.
3. Listen carefully and without judgement to what they have to say; that doesn’t mean advising them on how to cope with their issues but listening to whatever the problems are from their point of view.
4. Let the person know that they are not alone and that they are valued by others.
5. Advise them to seek advice from their GP. If a person appears to be in severe distress then do not hesitate to ask them if they are thinking of harming themselves, if so call 999 or offer to accompany them to the A&E department of the nearest hospital.
We can also proactively support others by discussing mental health and challenging the stereotypes we might see portrayed in the media. We can role model the importance of managing stress by making time for ourselves in our busy schedules and by showing that it’s OK to fail – that when something doesn’t work out, the most important thing is to learn from the experience and carry on.
Last week the NHS Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being was published and showed that record numbers of adults in England are experiencing mental health problems. The World Health Organisation is predicting that, unless we act urgently, depression will become the leading illness globally by 2030. The theme of how we can support each other better in times of need could not be more pertinent.
Tony Swanborough is mental health area manager with Milestones Trust, a not-for-profit charitable organisation with a 30-year history of offering safe, person-centred support to vulnerable people with learning disabilities, mental health needs and dementia.