A man died this week and suddenly a discussion of mental health issues has started. There is an outpouring from twitter users, as they retweet messages about depression. Statuses of support for sufferers of depression are being shared over and over on facebook. There’s even a multitude of new videos on YouTube on the subject. The problem is that, last week, most of these people didn’t give a fuck about depession. And, after the funeral of a well-loved celebrity, the furore over how sufferers are let down by the system and by society will die down to a quiet murmur once again.
Depression, bipolar and other mental health conditions DO need to be talked about, not least because the lack of understanding about these issues is so severely lacking amongst many members of the public – and it is that stigma that prevents many from seeking treatment or admitting they have a problem. There is something of a backlash about comments made on TalkSport radio by Alan Brazil (I have no idea who he is) in which he said he had “no sympathy” for Robin Williams. Shep Smith, a newscaster on Fox News in America, referred to Williams as a coward. Both men, bizarrely, still have their jobs. The truth of the matter, though, is that many members of the public have the same lack of understanding of depression as these two men – and twitter and facebook have shown that too in the last few days.
Suicide is thought to be the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK. Mental health issues affect 1 in 4 of us at some point in our lives. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, around 30% of sufferers will attempt suicide, and it is thought that around 10-15% of sufferers die as a consequence of the condition.
A 10-15% fatality rate.
So, what are we doing about it? Well, we’ll talk about if for a few weeks and then forget it. Public figures and politicians will tell us that support has to be given to sufferers. However, mental health budgets in the UK are being slashed. For example, six weeks ago the BBC reported that the budget for child and adolescent mental health services at Birmingham City Council were cut “from just above £2.3m in 2010-11 to £125,000 in 2014-15, a drop of 94%.” Mental health trusts have had their budgets slashed by 20% this year. NHS England has cut budgets for mental health by 2%.
There has to be a link here between the lack of education on the subject (and thus its perceived seriousness) and the cutting of budgets. It’s still thought people can “snap out of it” or that it isn’t a “real” illness. If the condition had the word “cancer” or “disease” at the end of it, we would all be looking at in a very different way. It is as real as diabetes or heart disease. The fact it doesn’t show up in a blood test robs it of that reality.
What I’m trying to say here is that, for a few days or weeks, mental health issues will matter to more people than ever before because someone they liked on the telly has died as a result of it. But those deaths (and attempted deaths) are happening all the time. It’s a reality that people and governments need to wake up to. More than ever it is time to educate, talk, support and treat.
In the four minutes it took you to read this article, six people will have attempted suicide in the USA alone. Five of them will have had a known mental health issue at the time.