Yeah, it’s not super catchy… But given one in four people suffer from a mental health issue in their lives, it is well worth spending a week focusing on it. I’m a bit late with this blog – we’re nearly at the end of MHA week – because I’ve been trying to write something about mental health that doesn’t come across as a blog I would have written for the Foreign Office. Also I’ve finally got a date to launch the app. 29 May. Watch this space!!
Cheesy as it sounds, I am passionate about mental health. The phrase “mental health” used to make me think about Victorian wards and weird machines that gave you electric shocks. However the phrase “physical health” makes me think of men with large white-teeth grins and bulging muscles… I’m not sure what is worse… OK the mental health image is clearly worse. But why? Why should talking about mental health be any different from talking about physical health?
I think it’s probably because of two things. Firstly, mental health is considered only in the negative. You can have bad mental health but not good mental health. This is not true. if you look at indicators of mental health (self-esteem, happiness, etc.) these tend to be normally distributed just like indicators of physical health.
Secondly, it is considered that poor mental health can’t be improved. Anything that can be wrong with you that can’t be cured becomes something we are very fearful of. Especially if there is a feeling it is catching. Hopefully this attitude will change too, as the treatment of poor mental health improves through drugs and therapies.
Maybe there is also the “catching” aspect. A fear of people with poor mental health. To some extent that is rational. People who are suffering can lash out and upset our balance. Hence the importance that “healthy” people to look after their own mental health similarly to they way they look after their physical health, building resilience to being knocked around by others. We all have to deal with people who knock us around a bit (I mean emotionally, not physically!) and having a strong basic sense of who we are and enjoyment of life helps enormously to cope with that.
Anyway, a final word on prisons. I shall try not to make this sounds like an FCO blog. Lots of prisoners arrive with mental health problems. Even more develop them while incarcerated. Here are the stats from the wonderful Prison Reform Trust:
- Around 16% of men and 25% of women have had a previous psychiatric admission before they entered prison. The rate among the general public is about 4%.
- 49% of female and 23% of male prisoners were assessed as suffering from anxiety and depression. This compares to 19% and 12% respectively in the general public.
- 46% of women prisoners reported having attempted suicide at some point in their lives. This is more than twice the rate of male prisoners (21%) and much higher than in the general UK population (6%).
So it’s bad. And mental health in prisoners is getting worse. The number of suicides and murders in prisons in England and Wales is the highest it has been for 17 years. And it’s not just prisoners. There is also an issue of poor mental health in prison guards, which is clearly also a serious problem, especially given the power they wield.
It just seems such a waste to lock people up without putting proper resources into helping them, not least so they don’t reoffend. I can’t see how you can improve the situation without more money or fewer prisoners.
Anway, here is the fabulous John Oliver being passionate and funny about America’s poor treatment of the mentally ill. He notes that the criminal justice service is the biggest provider of mental health care in the USA.
Time to go back to watching Orange is the New Black. They do a better job than I can do at turning this depressing topic into entertainment.
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