How can we better help sufferers of mental illness?by / August 15, 2014 / Leave a comment
This is the first of a new series, in which Prospector will be asking a range of experts, as well as our readers, to come up with answers to the questions defining the political agenda.
This week, mental health, and our society’s often insufficient response to it, has been at the centre of the public debate. On Monday, the actor and comedian Robin Williams was found dead, having committed suicide after struggling with his mental health for many years. On Thursday, Professor Simon Wessely, the incoming President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, warned in a Guardian interview that two-thirds of Britons with depression aren’t getting the treatment they need.
Make the public more aware
Public awareness is key. Children should be taught in schools that mental illnesses are just that—illnesses. Millions of them are living with them anyway, through parents, grandparents, siblings and friends. There should be far more advertising about the reality of mental illness, encouraging people to understand what these illnesses are, and to seek help. And then the help must be there. Services are being steadily cut and eroded when they are needed more than ever. Greater public awareness will drive greater political demand to deliver those services.
Alastair Campbell, MIND Ambassador and former director of communications to Tony Blair
Combat sexual violence
To prevent the vast majority of the mental health problems in women, in particular, we need to combat sexual violence and abuse. If you scratch beneath the surface with almost any woman, they’ve at least been flashed at or touched inappropriately. Anything from their uncle rubbing his stubbly beard a bit too hard when he tells them they’re pretty when they’re seven years old, through to child sexual abuse and rape. It’s just routine, and it all wears away at self-esteem, self confidence, self-worth. If they’re not believed, and blamed, and not supported, then it’s no surprise when these women develop quite chronic forms of mental illness later on.
Julie Bindel, feminist writer
Teach healthy thinking
From an early age we are taught to identify physical health problems. Healthy food, doctors, and medicine are all part of a primary school vocabulary. Mental and emotional health is often missed. As a result we see young people struggling to understand their emotions, fearful of seeking help. Talking more about looking after your mind in primary school would create a foundation for mental health and mindfulness education. This would help young people understand how to take care of themselves and reduce the risk of the deterioration of mental health that often starts in teenage years and continues unchecked into adult life.
Clare Foster, mental health campaigner and blogger
Better fictional depictions
Dramatists should write more accurately about mental health. TV drama, film and theatre can have an enormous impact on perception, so writers and producers have a responsibility to approach the subject in a productive way. There’s a perceived glamour in artists and celebrities people who die young by their own hand. The reality is very different. Drama fixates on the unusual. The Samaritans have published media guidelines for the reporting of suicide so as to not cause further deaths, but there are no such guidelines for fictional depictions of mental health issues. It’s a difficult balance—we should strive to be accurate about depression without being hopeless and to provide hope without being sentimental. Crucially, we should aim to avoid over-simplification.
Duncan Macmillan, director and playwright
Change the definition of “young adults”
Mental health problems affect around one in 10 children. Cuts to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, with two-thirds of local authorities in England reducing their budget since 2010, means that under-18s are often admitted to adult wards, where they risk being unable to receive care that meets their needs. It is widely recognised that the brain continues to develop past the age of 18 up to and beyond the age of 25. By extending the range of CAMHS to cover 18 to 25-year-olds, commissioners would be able to ensure continuity of care for those with mental health problems and develop a clear, long-term care pathway.
Craig Thorley, Researcher at the Institute for Public Policy Research
This week’s big question is edited by Josh Lowe and Dimple Vijaykumar
@prospect_uk Start by educating children about both physical and mental illness as part of a health curriculum. Kindergartners.
— Jessica Josephson (@jjj5819) August 15, 2014
— Charlotte Sabel (@CharleySabel) August 15, 2014
@prospect_uk Enable doctors to prescribe cash.
— Yiannis Βaboulias (@YiannisBab) August 15, 2014