Are you Surviving or Thriving?
The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has launched a new theme this year called From Surviving to Thriving for Mental Health Awareness Week, which took place between 8 and 14 May 2017.
The new Surviving or Thriving focus aims to change the strategy of tackling mental health issues from treating people with psychological problems to helping them flourish with mental wellbeing.
It is not just about the absence of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, stress and self-harm but it is going to be more focused on positive mental health like self-steam, self-confidence, the ability to engage in positive relationships and activities and why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.
The theme is based on a survey conducted by MHF across Britain, which showed that two thirds of the population have experienced mental health problems in their lifetime and only 13% are currently living with high level of good mental health.
Lee Knifton, head of MHF in Scotland, said that even though Scotland is a relatively rich country and services are varied and available, many people still exhibit poor mental health, which is worrying.
“We look at the facts of increasing social pressures, work pressures, education pressures. I think digital screen time and social media increases pressure also.
“We got a lonely society and we have forms of inequality, these seven ingredients are not good for wellbeing in a country which has a lot of privileges,” he added.
Figures show that half of adult mental health problems start before the age of 15 and 75% start before the age of 18, which means that most of the mental diseases are happening in the years of school or during adolescence.
“We need to identify emerging problems quickly and intervene early. The first thing, employees in schools, colleges and universities should all be trained up to recognise common mental health problems like depression and anxiety and the second thing is to have very rapid response,” Knifton said.
“But general practitioner primary care is very overwhelmed and people are offered very short appointments and mental health service always has a huge waiting list and offers very restrictive forms of support,” he added.
Mental health problems are responsible for the largest burden of disease in the UK with 28% of the total burden, compared to 16% each for cancer and heart disease, says the MHF, although a minority of people with mental illness access professional support.
Knifton said “Three things prevent people to access professional mental health support: self-stigma, lack of services that can support people rapidly in a holistic way, and sometimes the services are not what people want.”
For example, if a patient has depression, ideally they should receive in the first instance psychological therapy and support, said Knifton. However, that is not happening currently and instead the patient is given a diagnosis and medication. “And to change that, we need a big work force and more time for doctors to spend with patients,” he added.
Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems in the UK, and self–harm is emerging as a public health problem, particularly among young women and children, according to NHS figures cited in the Guardian.
The number of girls under 18 who received treatment in hospitals after they poisoned themselves has risen by 42% in 10 years from 9,741 in 2005-06 to 13,853.
There are strong links between physical and mental health problems. People with long-term physical illness are more likely to develop depression and anxiety, while people with mental illness could create a long-term physical illness. “If a patient has a long mental health condition, he is likely to die 15 years younger than the normal average,” Knifton said.
Sometimes prescription medication, although helpful to many, can complicate things even further. The British Medical Association (BMA) believes that strong tranquillisers, which are used for mental problems such as anxiety and insomnia, could cause withdrawal symptoms to the patient if used for a long period of time.
Addy Mohammed, director of Logan Pharmaceuticals, said “mental health drugs could cause an addiction if it is taken for a long period of time and it can lead to physical illnesses if it is taken without the appropriate supervision.”
“First line should be behaviour therapy, and then the patient would first have to be diagnosed by a medical professional and prescribed the appropriate medication,” Mohammed stressed.
The Surviving or Thriving theme has called for establishing a prevention system, including a national Thriving Mental Health programme to spread awareness about the importance of positive mental health and how to look after it. The MHF has also proposed a full health check to help people manage their mental health in the early stages and to increase funding for mental health research, which currently receives around £115 million per year , which is 5.5% of the UK NHS research budget.
Mental health problems cost the UK economy from £70 to £100 billion a year and cause the losing of 70 million days of work each year, according to the Chief Medical Officer’s report. Depression is the main reason for staff being off or not being productive at work.
By 2030, depression will be the biggest cause of illness in the world. The World Health Organisation has called this year for depression to be tackled as the biggest public health challenge for its risk of complicating diseases such as diabetes and heart attacks. Depression is characterized by persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities and in many cases could lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide.