If I’m honest, this isn’t the first draft of this View from the Street. I’m accustomed to writing about subjects I’m not an expert in or have little personal experience of, often to tight deadlines. It comes with the job. This subject, however, has me searching for exactly the right words.
So here we go. Let’s talk about mental health.
The suicide this week of designer and businesswoman Kate Spade brought into focus that mental health problems don’t discriminate. Rich, poor, young, old, male or female – we all have a state of mental health. On the same day as Spade’s tragic death, 18 people in the UK and the Republic of Ireland also lost their lives to suicide.
So why is it that we struggle to talk (and write) about it as openly as we do, say, our physical health concerns?
A survey released on the day of Spade’s death from charity Mind reveals a rising demand for mental health support in Britain, with 40% of all GP appointments now involving mental health. Sixty-six percent of GPs reported that the proportion of patients needing help with their mental health has increased in the last 12 months. The rise in demand is concerning, but the fact that more people are seeking help can surely only be a good thing.
Yet, a cursory survey of my colleagues, family and friends tells me that whilst we may be seeking medical help for our mental health problems, as a society we’re not talking enough about it amongst ourselves – not in our homes, workplaces or within our local communities. The stigma of mental health problems is prevailing, and we need to do more to challenge it.
It’s easy to agree that in the face of increasing demand it is more important than ever that the NHS gets mental health support right. In addition to the usual cries for more funding (which must and should be heard), there have been calls this week by Mind for GPs to undertake additional mental health training. Currently only one of the 21 compulsory modules that they undertake as part of their qualification is specifically dedicated to mental health. What’s more, GPs themselves are demanding training with 80% of them saying they would welcome teaching in a wider variety of mental health settings.
Charities and healthcare professionals have also been calling for the introduction of mental health therapists linked to GP surgeries. The idea is that they would offer immediate assistance to those seeking help at their first point of contact (usually a GP surgery), relieving the pressures on already stretched practices. But progress has been slow, much to the frustration of campaigners.
More funding, better training and improved access to services can all play a role in improving mental health and preventing an average of 18 suicides a day – each of them a personal tragedy. However, in the mix must also be a change in public discourse around mental health and the stigma surrounding it, which serves only to prevent us from talking about the impact of poor mental health on our lives. This, to me, ought to be a badge of shame in 2018.
If your colleague had a broken leg, you wouldn’t think twice about asking them how they were feeling. Or what if they suffered an asthma attack? You would rush to their aid and do everything you could to help.
So why do we struggle to do the same if we know someone has suffered from a mental health problem?
It’s reported that Kate Spade had a long struggle with depression and sought medical help. Her family claim that it was fear of the stigma of mental illness that contributed to her death.
Getting help, and not feeling ashamed to do so, needs to be top of the agenda, but so too does talking openly and honestly about mental health without fear of judgement.
At the time of writing, it seems we’re making progress thanks in large part to the courage of those who have first-hand experience of mental health problems. In an extremely forthright interview only this week, England footballer Danny Rose revealed that he has been diagnosed with depression. According to the player his illness was initially brought on by his long-term injury and was further affected by his uncle’s suicide. This brave move has paved the way for us all to open up.
It's time to start talking about mental health.
Sabina Kadic-Mackenzie is an associate partner at Charlotte Street Partners.