Mental Health Awareness Week: We Need Action As Well As Awareness And We Need It Now.

It’s great to see prominent members of our society coming forward and talking about their own experiences of mental illness and highlighting ways to access help. However, the inevitability around lack of NHS funding means the reality is that we need to do whatever we can to ensure there is less need for these services in the first place and that means investing time, effort and support into the area of prevention that receives far too little focus and emphasis.

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We need to invest time, effort and support into the area of prevention that receives far too little focus and emphasis.

In a society where mental illness is reaching epidemic levels it’s great to see the emerging trends this week, raising awareness of the unresolved mental illness problems that lie at the heart of some of our most worrying social challenges. It’s absolutely right that we need to support campaigns around reducing stigma and encourage people to talk about how they feel and their experiences with mental illness but there still seems to be a great big glaringly obvious issue that just keeps staring me in the face:

Mental health and mental illness are two different things and it’s an important distinction.

When we talk about mental health, we’re talking about our mental and emotional wellbeing; our emotions, our thoughts and feelings, our ability to solve problems and overcome challenges, our social connections and our understanding of the world around us.

Mental illness is an illness that affects the way people think, feel, behave or interact with others. There are many different mental illnesses, all with different symptoms that impact people’s lives in different ways.

100% of people have mental health

Yet Government Health departments and the majority of mental health Third Sector organisations spend the vast majority of monies and resources focusing only on those who are already experiencing mental illness. Leaving very little investment and proactivity in the mental health risks, opportunities and challenges faced by the larger majority of people in our community.

We need to focus on mental health, rather than just illness

And awareness of the distinction between mental health and mental illness is not a substitute for action. As a community, we need to put forward a strong, supportive and unified message that 100% of people need to improve, protect and repair their mental health. By exploring a variety of strategies, going well beyond medicine and psychological intervention, to maximise mental health and wellbeing. We need to do this for ourselves, our children and their future.

Skills focused education around prevention against poor mental health introduces empowerment and proactivity

Everyone at some point will be touched in some way by intense change and circumstances that leave us feeling overwhelmed and uncertain. It’s not just adults, children are facing greater risks of poor mental health too. In England and Wales alone, the costs faced by late intervention in children costs the UK Government £774million annually.

It’s normal to expect our mental health to move up and down over the course of our lives. Surely the most sensible and cost effective way forward is to focus on a community based on proactivity and developing resilience?

The truth is that in today’s world, many people are living on the edge. Arming our community with the skills to maintain their resilience in order to better manage their mental and emotional health, acts as a buffer in times of change, challenge and uncertainty. Imagine a world where people become comfortable with the fact that mental health is a continuum ranging from healthy to not so healthy and had the skillset, mindset and resources to better manage their emotions, solve problems, overcome challenges and enjoy strong and trusting relationships? To reduce the likelihood of isolation when life becomes hard and to know with absolute certainty that the support of friends, family and colleagues is there if they need it?

It’s great to see prominent members of our society coming forward and talking about their own experiences of mental illness and highlighting ways to access help. However, the inevitability around lack of NHS funding means the reality is that we need to do whatever we can to ensure there is less need for these services in the first place and that means investing time, effort and support into the area of prevention that receives far too little focus and emphasis.

Emma Ogilvie is a Panel Member of the States of Jersey Mental Health Policy Review, Director of the Resilience Development Company and Co-Founder of the charity Resilience Matters.

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