According to the ONS, 69% of adults in the UK have reported feeling somewhat or very worried about the effect COVID is having on their lives.
Even pre-pandemic, one in four people were experiencing a problem with their mental health, as per the NHS. This doesn’t even account for those who face problems whilst in prison, hospital or sheltered accommodation, or those who are homeless.
Why are so many of us struggling?
The theory goes that a perfect storm of economic uncertainty, social media, celebrity culture, social isolation and political polarisation has made 21st century living a lightening-rod for anxiety, depression, addiction and other mental health issues.
Research also suggests that our psychological profiles are shaped largely by early environmental experiences. With so many societal conventions ushering us to behave in certain ways and achieve certain things from a young age, it’s little surprise that, say, over 25% of girls aged 16-24 will now have a mental health problem in any given week. As half of all mental disorders manifest by the time a person reaches fourteen, it’s clear that easily accessible support structures need to be in place from an earlier age.
Yet, in 2015/16 40% of all mental health trusts on the NHS saw their budgets cut. What’s more, just 11% of the National Health Service’s total funding goes to mental health support. This, as the number (addictive) drugs prescribed for anxiety, depression and other conditions has doubled over the last decade.
The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the situation, elevating stress and anxiety levels whilst creating conditions that trigger loneliness, boredom, and in some cases, substance abuse. Analysis by IFS has found that incidences of mental health issues increased by 8.1% in July, compared to the already sky high rates seen pre-COVID.
Armed with these facts, it’s clear that the UK is currently ill equipped to effectively support the population’s mental health needs. With 20.6 people in every 100 experiencing suicidal thoughts in their lifetime – and suicide being the biggest killer of men under the age of 49 – initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness Week are vital in raising awareness, breaking down stigmas and driving societal change.
And there are signs of progress everywhere you look.
For a start, the wellness industry – once thought of as an indulgence of rich people with time to spare – is now worth an estimated $4.2 trillion globally, whilst wellness tourism is – or until COVID, was – projected to reach $919 billion by 2022.
More importantly, people are beginning to talk. In a country where the words ‘stiff’, ‘ upper’ and ‘lip’ have taken on a fabled, mantra-like significance, we are gradually coming round to the idea that it’s ok to not be ok. A 50% rise in demand for student counselling, for example, can possibly be explained in part by the fact we are becoming more comfortable in seeking help.
Then there’s charities such as Mind and Calm, which are achieving wonderful things in educating the public and normalising conversations around mental health. This gives men and women of all ages the confidence to face up to their problems and not suffer alone, whilst also equipping the wider population with the knowledge and tools to recognise and help somebody in need.
Still, the fact remains that only 1 in 3 people with a mental health issue claim to have received treatment.
Support, therefore, must also be available on an individual, company and communal level.
But it’s no good giving lip service to mental health for one week a year; it’s our responsibility as companies and individuals to maintain a culture of support and openness each and every day. Ultimately, whilst Mental Health Awareness Week is a fantastic reminder of the progress being made, it’s also a challenge.
So, as we begin to build a new world out of the rubble left behind by COVID-19, it’s essential that mental health awareness underpins our response as we reconnect with not just each other, but the natural world and the greener, cleaner future we all need, too. Together we are stronger – never is that truer than when it comes to our mental wellbeing.