Why is it that if something feels wrong on the outside, then people pay so much attention, they become so concerned and they are so quick to find anyone who could potentially be a help, to help us to heal. However if something hurts on the inside then the response is rather much the opposite, as it is rather difficult to see something that is invisible, and it is much harder to scan for a physical diagnosis…
Though we do hear an awful lot about mental health these days, and I would hope that most of us who do so, realise that it can affect anyone! At least it feels like we are finally in a generation where there is enough “awareness”, yet this on its own doesn’t usually equate to something that is equip to start combatting some of the relevant issues. In this case it is rather the opposite. Rather this “awareness” causes a load of stigma to arise, and even those who mean well don’t always act in the best way… Surely it can be better, but what could be the cause?
For a start, we have a system lacking sufficient finances and empathy; where the majority of people who need it don’t even stand a chance of getting any kind of help. Meanwhile those who are fortunate enough to get acknowledged are certainly not guaranteed to receive sufficient support, due to these predetermining conditions. It is almost self explanatory in that when there is a system that isn’t being fed to help the number of people in the ways that it needs to, chances are that the people in need aren’t going to be helped in a decent way either.
But why is such a fundamental system let down so much? When in reality one in 4 people are said to suffer with a mental health problem EACH YEAR. And while there is clearly a problem with the funds for physical health as well, in 2018-19 the NHS planned for £12.2 billion to go toward mental health which may sound like a hefty sum of money. Yet in reality this is the equivalent to one pound per ten pounds spent. Then when we take a look at some of the statistics relating to the quality of mental health treatment, this only becomes more daunting. Only 14% of young people begin treatment for mental health within four weeks while half waited more than 18 weeks, when the MAXIMUM waiting time for non urgent physical health treatment (pre covid) was made to 18 weeks! Almost dictating to us that mental health is less important, when it is equally so! But the case isn’t as simple as that people needing treatment either have prolonged waiting times or don’t get treated at all, but it also means that the severity over this time is going to worsen. Therefore we find ourselves at a breaking point where someone’s condition literally has to get to a point where it is “bad enough” before it can be treated. This actually means that there would need to be more spending on each individual case.
Also the mental health system happens to be very prejudice, resulting in some groups of people standing even less of a chance of being sufficiently treated. Proving this, as of 2014 14.5% of white British” people were receiving some kind of treatment for mental health compared to only 6.5% of black people- being less than half! Surely the fact that some are less likely to be treated than others due to being who they are should not be acceptable? Also this results to people in these groups being less confident in being as open about their mental health, knowing that they are unlikely to be taken seriously. This seriously needs tackling!
Moreover, schools do not have a good record in dealing with mental health issues effectively. Because if a young person is on the way to receiving some kind of professional help, or if they are having problems which aren’t and not going to be dealt with professionally, then the support given to them stands a rather low chance of being adequate. Mainly due to the lack of understanding around schools concerning mental health. Now I could throw another load of facts your way, but in this case I am choosing to talk from my own experiences. As in the majority of cases that I am either told about or that I hear about, most people have said that they don’t feel that the help they received has been too helpful, and in many cases it has added to the stresses. Coming to my personal experience, one time I remember a teacher heavily implying that I were attention seeking, another I told them about something then there was absolutely no follow up issue regarding this specific thing (and this was actually something rather serious), then another time I told a teacher not to tell who I lived with at home, then we both had a bit of a giggle as she told me this certainly will not happen. Until one day, when I finally found out that she had acted behind my back, phoning home about the issue that she told me she wouldn’t tell anyone about, and telling them not to tell me she had phoned. No wonder most young people are so afraid to seek help about an issue, and instead choose to bottle it up. Even when it is stressed to them that bottling something up is the last thing that anyone should do!
The stigma surrounding mental health could well be at the root as to why there is such a lack of funding within the system, and why early intervention doesn’t always feel like it is. For instance some teachers may not take a student suffering with anxiety seriously assuming that they can “just snap out of it” because they “worry too much”, they are “attention seeking” or that there is not enough difficulty occurring in their lives to cause this. Which replicates the assumptions that so many people hold. But whether this happens within the school, within the health system or within the outer world, it does explain why so many people feel that they cannot get sufficient support. While whose who are brave enough to have a look to see if they can get help, are rather likely to have their feelings invalidated- meaning that next time they are most likely to want to bottle it up!
As touched upon earlier, although I accept that sometimes it would be helpful if those who cared for the young person were informed, not everyone is this fortunate, and often parents can be incredibly skilled in invalidating what the person is going through. To the extent that they could subsequently make the person feel worse about themselves rather than better. While it is important to keep in mind that parents can often contribute to the cause of the young person’s problems!
Another issue concerns peoples assumptions. The toxic presumption that men are “weak” if they are open about topics like mental health, not being “masculine enough” means in turn that they are going to feel more ashamed about what they are going through, less likely to admit it to themselves thus less likely to seek the appropriate treatment. The hideous evidence lies within the fact that the suicide is the biggest killer for men under 40. This proves how the extent of our stereotypes and assumptions really can travel such a long way, and affect people on such a colossal scale!
Finally, most of us know about depression and anxiety, and most of have a rough idea of how they can affect people. However think of something like bipolar then it is no longer a illness which needs to be treated, but it turns into some way of describing some freak show. Then there are other mental illnesses which many people cannot begin to take seriously, making it even more hard for people to be able to seek the appropriate help required.
So from this, I hope that it is clear that there is definitely something which needs to be done about the mental health system that we currently have, to ensure that people are able to get the treatment that they deserve. There needs to be a continuation of not only the effort put in to make one another aware of different illnesses and symptoms, but this also needs to be put into practice. We all need to rethink our own actions and attitudes toward mental health, and to especially question our assumptions. Meanwhile to keep pushing for more advocacy toward improving services.
And even though you may feel powerless alone, by just providing a listening ear to one person going through something, even for half an hour or so, can make a significant difference to the way they feel about attitudes toward their own mental health. And though we have a system that is failing us, we still have the power to turn this around for future generations.