I hadn’t planned to write this column about mental health. But the recent tragic suicide of a local resident combined with a huge volume in mental health related casework has meant that I felt I had to air my concerns, with a hope of getting people talking about the issue.
Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, but despite recent increased coverage, those suffering often do not feel able to speak out. Men in particular seem to find it difficult to talk and tend keep their feelings bottled up. This means many of them don’t get the support they need at the time when they need it most. Sadly, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, with men being three times more likely to take their own lives than women.
We know mental health problems do not discriminate and the stresses of modern-day life are becoming such that it is unsurprising that 1 in 4 of us will be affected by a mental health problem at some point in our life. Getting men talking is key to breaking the stigma around mental health, with prevention being the aim whenever possible. Listening is powerful, and we need to keep conversations going. Evidence shows that connecting to or feeling valued by another person is a basic human need and one that contributes to our general well-being.
Despite increased awareness and some further investment, it is a deeply concerning fact that the continued under-funding of the NHS, cuts to the third sector and changes to the welfare system have impacted greatly on all of those living with mental health problems.
Young people are also under great pressure. Recently there has been a big increase in families contacting me about long-waiting times for access to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). There are truly fantastic, committed people running these services in Barnsley, but just not enough of them. It is vital that mental health issues are addressed at the earliest possible stage, so they do not persist into adulthood. I continue to press the government on the importance of properly investing in these essential, life-saving services.
More widely, it is reassuring to see this issue being taken seriously by the people running our mental health services in South Yorkshire, with spending per person per year being amongst the highest in the county. This is despite the financial constraints they are faced with.
I believe our mental health and emotional wellbeing 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.
If you or someone you know is struggling to cope, there is help and support out there. The Samaritans are available to talk to 24/7 on 116 123.
Remember– conversations make a difference, so let’s keep talking.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 31 May 2019.