COMMENT: Slow progress on changing the attitude towards mental health

Jason Hanson, Mansfield counsellor.
Jason Hanson, Mansfield counsellor.

It’s 2018 and society has moved on in a multitude of ways. We now have driverless cars, robots which can do many of the things humans do (and more) as well as the ability to reach millions of people at the click of a button.

It feels however that technology has developed at a much quicker rate than the human race, as we still live in an intolerant society, where different is wrong or abnormal.

Of course with celebrities such as Stephen Fry, Prince Harry and most recently, Hollywood star Dwayne Johnson speaking out about mental health it would be hoped attitudes towards mental health are changing. Whilst I think to an extent this is happening, it feels the process is slow and on a regular basis something in the media often grabs my attention, and not for any positive reasons.

What is pleasing to see is the amount of campaigns which appear to be making their way around social media.

It is reassuring the subject hasn’t been swept aside after so many promises from the government to put it high on their agenda (see the ‘No health without mental health’ paper of 2011).

I have attended numerous events and conferences around mental health and the approach to tackling stigma. In rugby league we have State of Mind promoting mental wellbeing within the sport, with ex-players and referees campaigning, so there is a voice out there.

Encouraging people to talk about how they are feeling is only part of the answer however. Much like a Psychodynamic approach to therapy, you need to address the root cause of why people are reticent to disclose their mental health problems.

Having worked with a lot of people both as a therapist and in other occupations, the most common rationale for non-disclosure I hear, is the stigma attached to having a health condition.

I have worked with people who fear being prescribed medication in case their medical records are requested by future employers.

Sadly I still hear people talk about mental illness being something which can be easily controlled and remedied. My response to these people is always the same. Would you tell somebody with a broken leg to walk it off? It’s a very simple equation. Just because you cannot see it does not mean it does not exist. To use a better quote, ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’.

Ultimately to everybody affected by mental illness, I am inspired by the tenacity. I am in awe of the strength and resilience you show on a daily basis. My message to you is to continue showing the courage you are and remember there are many understanding people who will listen and support. You are not alone.