Spreading the mental health message
As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of mental health, and what constitutes poor/adequate/optimal health. Whether the current data accurately indicates the prevalence of mental health issues in our society is a different matter altogether.
However, due to stigma or a lack of personal awareness, many people still do not seek the help they need. All we can do is to continue to educate and spread awareness, so that people are more attuned to the signs and symptoms of acute and/or perpetuating mental health issues.
Currently, financial stress, loneliness and a lack of meaningful work appear to be the most significant causes of mental health problems – and these factors seem to ripple into one another. People will often call the service lines well aware of the reasons why they’re feeling stressed, anxious and isolated.
Financial stress leads to less time doing the more enjoyable things in life. Additionally, the cost of living is an ongoing issue in our society that affects many industries, including the mental health system and making it harder for people to get the help they need due to supply restrictions. This is most commonly seen in triage services but with the service lines too. Some people have to endure lengthy wait times before they can engage with a counsellor which is far from satisfactory.
Middle-aged men living in rural parts of the country are most at risk of suicide/self-harm. Though not always struggling with suicidal ideation, this demographic often feels stuck without hope. That sense of hopelessness often precipitates a depressive episode. Additionally, individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions are also at risk. But suicide/self-harm is often hard to predict and, though we are aware of certain risk factors, the issue is multifaceted.
Access to healthcare is a major factor. So, people living in rural communities who have to travel further to see their GP or mental health clinician, for example, are at greater risk. This feeds into the ongoing problem of isolation which is a major cause of mental health issues. If someone is experiencing loneliness and/or isolation, we often encourage them to seek support as a preventative measure, more so than a management strategy.
The pandemic brought a lot of issues to the surface. Financial stress and couples’ conflict skyrocketed, evidenced by businesses failing, marriages ending in divorce, and, concerningly, increasing rates of domestic violence. Some people thrived throughout the pandemic – those perhaps more introverted or who were able to adapt and upskill into different industries or innovate.
But the pandemic, like all challenges, brought out the worst and the best in people. People who could ride the wave of the pandemic were often those in more fortunate financial positions; and that’s why many of the mental health problems people face, unfortunately, arise from socioeconomic inequalities.
On the upside I believe perceptions are changing for the better, especially if you broaden the timespan and compare the modern age to the early twentieth century where men were being dishonourably discharged from the Great War for what would later be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
That said, our contemporary world has it its own challenges, namely from an existential perspective: feelings of nihilism and cynicism about the world worsened by the rise of AI (Artificial Intelligence), the threat of nuclear war and consumerism which makes it harder to cultivate personal and more meaningful values.
Though every generation has its struggles, what we typically hear on the service lines now is this lack of ‘meaning phenomenon’. On the other hand, I believe that very level of self-awareness reflects the changing perceptions of mental health. People now have the words to describe their emotions and inner feelings which is a clear advantage.
Asking for help is the most important, and often the scariest thing someone can do to improve their mental health. Whether that be a friend, a GP, or psychologist, reaching out and asking for support, even if you think your concerns are trivial or less significant than others, will make a big difference.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to improving your mental health but discovering, playing with and developing tools as you learn more about who you are, why your mental health is as it is, and who you want to become, will be easier and less cumbersome with the help of others.
We can learn from one another. It is validating and reassuring when someone engages with our service lines and explains how they felt when they realised they weren’t alone in their respective struggles. Also, it is important for people to accept the degree of stress that is outside their control. Our stress levels are often heightened by trying to change what cannot be changed.
While I’m not particularly religious, I have always been fond of the Christian Serenity Prayer as it offers such wonderful insight and practical application to mental health. Doing what we can, so to speak, and accepting what we can’t, will go a long way on our path to finding happiness.
‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’
Footnote: This article was written by Tom Barry (not his real name) who works for a mental health online service. World Mental Health Day will be held on October 10.
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