Which one of us would consider it unreasonable that if a parent, during a chickenpox epidemic, should request an urgent doctor’s appointment after detecting an unexplained skin rash on their child?
Similarly, most of us are quietly relieved to find our aging parents diligently attending to routine medical check-ups. And, come the New Year, even the young and fit might be proudly showing off our newly acquired electronic health-tracking device, guaranteed to help us improve on health metrics such as heart rate and activity levels.
While the topic of physical health is never far from our minds (especially when we suspect that a colleague might be coming down with the flu), mentions of mental health are commonly met with an uncomfortable silence.
“Keep Calm and Avoid Talking About Mental Health”
Tackling this issue head-on in the January 2014 edition of the London Mental Health Report, the report blows the whistle on this silence:
“Churchill called depression his ‘black dog’. Many other public figures have more recently spoken of their battles with mental ill health. Yet it remains a topic, we, the British people are reluctant to discuss.”
The reasons for our silence on the topic of mental health are multiple. While social stigma is one of the more obvious factors that underlies this taboo, one needs not scratch very deeply to detect the influence of a mind-body dualism dating back to Ancient Greece.
This philosophical theory of Cartesian dualism crucially holds the view that the mind (or soul) and body are essentially separate entities. Due to its rootedness in this long since debunked theory on the nature of human beings, the Western paradigm still leans towards viewing health or illness in the physical and mental spheres as unrelated concepts, to be treated separately. Contrary to the ancient understanding of the body as the dungeon that imprisons the immortal soul, modern society seems to consider the soul as a hindrance in pursuit of physical (or material) success.
From a modern health perspective, a response informed by such a mind-body dualism can be critiqued not only for its inherent limitations but also the self-defeating consequences.
The overwhelming consensus among medical professionals of the positive correlation between our levels of physical and mental health should be enough to inspire in us a wish to see a more holistic view of our health and wellbeing.
The Prevalence and Impact of Mental Ill Health in London
If the link between your physical and mental health is not sufficient encouragement for reconsidering our stance towards our mental health, the widespread occurrence of mental ill health should really make us sit up and notice.
“In any given year, an estimated 1 in 4 individuals (in London) will experience a diagnosable mental health condition. A third of these will experience two or more conditions at once. Mental ill health is the single largest source of disease burden, more than cancer and cardiovascular disease, and the costs extend well beyond health and social care.” (Source: London Mental Health Report)
Research has spoken: Whether it be directly and personally, or indirectly, mental illness impacts each one of us.
Another Year is Over: Have you had your check-up?
World Mental Health Month (October) is on the horizon, and for the 24th consecutive 10th of October (World Mental Health Day) we expect to see the worldwide community of mental health advocates grow in size and visibility.
In a society where the mental wellbeing of ourselves and our loved ones is under threat from ignorance and stigma, it’s crucial we join the movement by celebrating a growing awareness of what it means to have a mental health problem. The ultimate goal of creating national and organisational awareness, however, is to improve the lives of individuals such as you, me, our loved ones, and every member of our community.
On a personal level, we recommend setting aside time to review and evaluate your mental health, and that of your loved ones. Here are a few practices to consider adopting in pursuit of prevention, early detection, and counteracting stigma:
- Schedule an annual mental health check-up or conversation, be it with a trusted mentor or a wise friend. If you have been suffering with more serious problems, you could contact a mental health care professional.
- Be as innovative and proactive about your mental health as you are with your physical fitness and adopt a mental wellbeing app!
- Educate yourself on how to identify, understand and help a person who may be developing a mental health issue by attending a Mental Health First Aid Course.
While these practises can provide valuable support and guidance, there aren’t any short cuts or quick fixes along the road to recovery and well-being. If this topic resonates with you, we encourage you to reach out to our mental health and wellbeing support team. We may be able to help directly or just help you on your journey by suggesting alternatives that are right for you.