If you were asked the question ‘Is mental health as important as physical health?’ I am quite certain your answer would be a resounding ‘Yes – of course it is!’. Despite this seemingly popular viewpoint, the reality unfortunately tells a far different story.
So what are the barriers to mental and physical health receiving equal treatment? To name a few;
- Physical illness or injury is more visible and therefore tangible to others
- Lack of understanding regarding the links between physical and mental health – statistics prove those suffering from mental health conditions are 32% more likely to die from cancer and have an increased risk of coronary heart disease
- Training for general healthcare professionals focuses predominantly on physical health issues and far less on mental ill health. Only 46% of GPs in the UK have undertaken a mental health training placement, despite one in three GP appointments being related to mental health
Sadly, the misconception still exists that mental ill health is something individuals can control without professional help, by ‘manning up’ or ‘getting over it’. Alternatively, poor physical health is generally viewed as uncontrollable and unfairly happening to someone, eliciting sympathy. For someone suffering from a mental health illness it is as real to them as having a broken leg. When left untreated, the most common condition – Mixed Anxiety and Depression Disorder – can produce much the same results; inability to leave the house and negatively impacting all aspects of life.
The ongoing misunderstanding around mental health issues is quite surprising considering approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. From a business perspective, mental ill health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK, with annual economic costs estimated at £105.2 billion. After viewing these facts and figures it further begs the question as to why mental health has been largely ignored and underrepresented for so long.
Mental health disorders will not simply go away if ignored – much the same as a physical illness, which left untreated can develop in to a far more serious and difficult to overcome condition. Early intervention is key and increased mental health awareness is paramount to recognising warning signs both in ourselves and those around us. Yet more significantly, to instil confidence in us to act upon concerns and take positive action.
The good news is that times are changing and the conversation around mental health in the UK is louder than ever before. The government has recently announced plans to provide additional support in schools to promote wellbeing from a young age, appointed the first Suicide Prevention Minister and provided funding for Samaritans, ensuring their phone line remains free for those in crisis. Another key organisation pushing for major change is MHFA England, who run Mental Health First Aid courses for adults and young people. They have recently submitted a petition to the government campaigning for a qualified mental health first aider to be mandatory in the workplace, matching requirements for trained physical health first aiders. If successful, the change would prompt workplaces to adopt a more open and supportive culture around mental health, encouraging early prevention, reducing absenteeism and promoting wellbeing.
What can we do to help? The simple answer is talk about mental health. If you start a conversation with, ‘Is mental health as important as physical health?’, you will be surprised at the discussions it provokes and how incredibly common it is for us all to experience mental ill health at some point in our lives. Do your own research into statistics around mental health in your own country or local area and find out what support is available. In the UK the national charity MIND runs local workshops on a wide range of topics such as handling stress and building self-confidence, in addition to providing free talking therapies for anyone to self-refer and seek advice.
At Pamoja we are putting our employees’ wellbeing and mental health at the top of the agenda. A line manager and I are now qualified as Mental Health First Aiders to spot early warning signs in colleagues, start a supportive conversation and signpost to appropriate services. I have also run several interactive mental health awareness sessions for staff, stimulating open conversations, discussing coping mechanisms and wellbeing tips. Future plans include an annual calendar of events around the topic and a tailored session for line managers equipping them with tools to address mental health concerns in their teams.
We all have mental health as much as we have physical health – we also have a personal responsibility to look after our own wellbeing as well as the mental health of those around us.
Let’s make sure we play our part in keeping the conversation going.
 Mental Health Foundation, Physical Health and Mental Health, (MHF, 2018). https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/p/physical-health-and-mental-health
 MIND, GPs & Practice Nurses aren’t getting enough mental health training, (MIND, 2016). https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/gps-and-practice-nurses-aren-t-getting-enough-mental-health-training/#.W-RZxZP7Q2w
 MIND, Mental Health Problems – an Introduction, (MIND, 2018). https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/mental-health-problems-introduction/#.W-RaZJP7Q2w
 Department of Health, No health without mental health: A cross-government mental health outcomes strategy for people of all ages. (DH, 2015). https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/215808/dh_123993.pdf
Rebecca Stanton, HR Administrator at Pamoja, is a trained Mental Health First Aider. She is passionate about ensuring Pamoja is a place of open discussion around mental health and works hard to promote wellbeing amongst staff.
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