World Health Day: Prioritising Mental Health

World Health Day is recognised worldwide on 7th April, and this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) will observe its 75th anniversary. 

WHO has been a uniting force for countries that come together to prioritise and promote health. From working to eliminate mother-child transmission of HIV and supporting the widespread rollout of the malaria vaccine to coordinating the largest-ever global response to a health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization has helped us through the toughest of health crises. As the world emerges from years of disruption and isolation, a mental health crisis is one of the greatest threats in 2023. 

Mental Health in Crisis 

UK mental health has been in crisis for several years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the situation. The pandemic brought various challenges, including job losses, anxiety, increased alcohol consumption, social isolation, and reduced physical activity. The culmination of this has profoundly impacted people’s mental health. As a result, the demand for mental health services has increased significantly, but the system is struggling to cope.

One of the biggest challenges facing mental health services in the UK is a lack of funding. Although mental health struggles affect people of all ages and genders in the UK, young women are particularly at risk. In young people aged 17 to 19 years, rates of a probable mental disorder rose from 1 in 10 in 2017 to 1 in 6 in 2020, increasing further to 1 in 4 in 2022.

Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are almost three times as likely to experience a common mental health issue as males of the same age and over twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with anxiety or report having self-harmed.

Despite the urgent need for treatment, many people in the UK wait months for the mental health support they need. Funding for NHS mental health services does not match the demand, resulting in long waiting times for treatment, limited access to therapy, and a lack of support for people with severe mental health problems.

Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Health 

Stigma refers to people’s negative beliefs and attitudes towards those with mental health conditions, which can lead to discrimination and social exclusion.

The stigma surrounding mental health is a significant barrier to people seeking help. Many people are reluctant to discuss their mental health issues because they fear being discriminated against. This has led to a significant underreporting of mental health problems, making it even harder for mental health services to provide the necessary support.

Overcoming the stigma of mental health is a crucial step towards improving mental health outcomes and reducing the negative impact of mental illness on individuals, families, and society as a whole. 

Education and awareness-raising campaigns are essential in re-framing how many people view mental health. Providing information about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of different mental health conditions and addressing common misconceptions and stereotypes can increase understanding and empathy. Better appreciation and compassion for mental struggles can promote positive attitudes towards those with mental health conditions. 

While damaging stigma surrounding men affects all ages and genders, they face a particular kind of stigma that makes them much less likely to seek mental health treatment than women. Many males feel pressure to conform to traditional masculine stereotypes, making them reluctant to discuss their emotions or seek treatment. Men’s problems

may manifest differently from women’s; their symptoms sometimes go unrecognised and undiagnosed, and they do not receive appropriate treatment. Among the reasons given by men for not accessing treatment when they need it are things like poor access to services, a lack of anonymity and privacy, fear of judgement, and fear of being diagnosed as mentally ill.

These barriers impact men’s use of available services. According to NHS data, men make up only 35 per cent of those using Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT), the NHS’s talking therapies service. Although the gap is narrowing, this still presents a serious issue. Suicide rates are significantly higher among men, with around three-quarters of deaths registered as suicide in England and Wales being male. Campaigns such as ManUp, Mind Matters and Movember are working hard to spread awareness and reduce stigma, mainly by encouraging men to talk about their feelings and looking for signs of suicidality in male friends.

While social media can have varied effects on mental health, it can be a safe, anonymous place for people to open up about how they feel. Support groups, online forums and individual accounts can encourage people to talk openly about their mental health by creating safe spaces for individuals and communities to share experiences. Breaking the silence surrounding mental health and changing the way that men, in particular, view and discuss feeling low can help reduce the shame and isolation that often accompanies mental illness.

Overcoming mental health stigma and prioritising our mental well-being as a country is essential for improving outcomes and creating a more compassionate and inclusive society. To break down the barriers that prevent people from seeking the help they need, it is important that we:

  • Increase education and awareness
  • Promote open dialogue
  • Create a more inclusive community in education, work and healthcare
  • Create structural mechanisms of support

Prioritising mental health amid mounting financial, climate and housing crises is an undoubted challenge, as many face unprecedented levels of stress. However, putting your mental well-being first is essential to staying resilient and able to handle whatever is put in your way.