Mental Health Awareness - raising awareness isn't enough…
It seems everywhere I turn at that moment whether on the TV or in the media there seems to be a focus on raising awareness of mental health. From celebrities sharing their personal struggles with mental ill health, to Mental Health awareness week to Mental Health First aid courses. The focus being on challenging the stigma of having a mental health issue and persuading people to seek help.
Whilst challenging any stigma associated with mental health issues can only be a good thing, what happens afterwards?
What happens if people decide to seek help?
Sadly, it’s a bit of a mixed response depending on where you live in the country. It’s also a bit of a mixed response depending on the issues or concerns your dealing with. If you’re dealing with bereavement or abuse for example you are more likely to be directed by your GP to contact a specialist counselling service (which in lots of cases are a charity). Whilst these specialist counselling services do amazing work (I have worked in and continue to work in more than one) in a lot of cases the demand simply outstrips the supply. Waiting lists of a year are not unusual. Services which in lots of cases are provided by trainee or at the very least volunteer counsellors are finding it difficult to meet this demand.
The launch of IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) by the UK Government in 2007 was aimed partly at addressing the lack of parity between physical and mental health but also to provide easier access to ‘taking therapies’ for people dealing with mild to moderate mental health issues.
What if you don’t have mild to moderate anxiety or depression?
What if your severe mental ill health is linked with an event that has happened to you in the past or present?
What if you have anxiety but that anxiety is accompanied with flashbacks or nightmares?
What if you have a severe panic disorder and thoughts of suicide?
Sadly if you fall into this category your wait for support is going to be even longer. I can only talk from my own personal experience as a counsellor… but I have lost count of the number of clients who are on waiting lists that are 12 months long, or who have been told that their needs are ‘too complex’ for them to be helped quickly on the NHS or that given they are dealing with issues such as rape, or abuse, or domestic violence, or sexual abuse, that they should contact ‘X’ organisation as they will be better able to help.
My fear is the overall focus and publicity on raising awareness hides a very real problem; the state of mental health services in this country. Whilst challenging the stigma of mental ill health is really, really, important, what’s of equal importance is being able to support those people who do ‘speak out’, who do ask for help. The job isn’t done by simply raising awareness. The job will only be done when people can access appropriate and timely support and are not left languishing on waiting lists or being turned away for being ‘too complex’.
Just being aware simply isn’t good enough...