Barnsley Independent article: It would pay us to invest in mental health support

What do Spike Milligan, Winston Churchill and Britney Spears have in common?

The answer is that they have all been documented as having mental health problems. It’s not surprising, given that one in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem in a year.

The stereotypes surrounding mental health are numerous but tabloid reports of violence and mayhem are usually far from the norm. Most mental health problems centre around anxiety and depression. And, given the stresses of modern life, it’s not surprising.

Whether it’s trying to find money to pay the bills, worrying about your children, or trying to find a job, the pressures are undeniable. The constant bombardment of the media, with images of the life you should aspire to, doesn’t help.

Sometimes mental health issues arise because of a big change in life – separation, parenthood, moving jobs or home, for instance. Poverty is also a major factor and is particularly apparent to me from the contact I have with my constituents. The current challenging economic climate has brought about job insecurity, wage freezes and zero hours contracts – none of which are conducive to a good night’s sleep, let alone a happy state of mind.

And children face their own pressures, some of them unique to their generation because of new technology. Is it any surprise then that around ten percent of children have a mental health problem at any one time?

Yet, as a society, we are often unaware of those suffering around us. If we saw someone with a broken limb, we’d make sure they went to hospital. Yet we often don’t recognise the signs of mental illness. A fortnight ago I wrote in this paper about my marathon run for Cancer Research UK and encouraged people to use their online symptom checker. The same can be done for mental health problems. Mind’s website is a good place to start:

With so many people suffering from mental health issues, you’d think we’d be more understanding. Yet many people face discrimination because of their illness – at work, at school, sometimes from those closest to them.

It is vital that they get the support they need. However, it’s clear to me that local services are under acute pressure. Therapies have long waiting lists; crisis teams cannot respond quickly enough; dedicated mental health workers are buckling under increased workloads.

Given the strength it often takes to even ask for help, it is immensely frustrating to see that people then cannot get the level of help and speed of response they require.

I believe our mental health and our emotional well-being are key to functioning as decent human beings. When these elements of our being aren’t functioning healthily the impact is on individuals, families, communities, businesses and society as a whole. I see this everyday in my work with victims and on youth justice; I have learnt, for instance, that only ten percent of prisoners have no mental disorder.

It’s obvious that investing in mental health support early on in life could help prevent a weighty cost for our society later on.

This article was first published in the Barnsley Independent on 16 April 2014.

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