I was very pleased to be asked to write an article for Mental Health Awareness Week in 'The House' Magazine.
Mental Health Awareness Week is yet another opportunity to speak about the importance of mental health and well-being in all aspects of society.
Latest research indicates approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year. However, the term ‘mental health’ can mean different things to different people, affecting us all in different ways, either directly or indirectly. Likely many of us will have supported family or friends going through a dark time in their life, and as an MP I am sure many colleagues across the House have received casework on the issue in relation to access to services, family breakdowns, housing, or employment disputes.
Since the creation of the NHS in 1948, physical health and mental health have taken different routes to the way we think about our general wellbeing today. Fortunately, we have moved away from using language once used in the House such as 'lunacy' and the austere Victorian asylums were finally closed in the 1970s. Thankfully, the stigma from those times has slowly faded and our society has a greater appreciation than ever before of the importance of mental wellbeing, but stigma still exists.
From my work with charities in this field, mental health in the workplace is an area we still need more focus on. We all spend a significant proportion of our time at work so why wouldn’t we all want people to be at their best? So often this means starting with workers' wellbeing.
I appreciate there are many companies who already strive for the best working environment for their staff. It is also important to understand that the context of a workplace could mean anything from a classroom to a construction site, an office to a barbershop. They may all face different working practices but the importance of ensuring support for mental wellbeing is surely common for all.
For decades, every workplace has had a designated physical first aider, and we have seen thousands of lives saved through CPR. I argue that having the same parity of importance for mental health that we do for physical health can only be a positive step for businesses, workers, and society alike.
In 2021, the World Health Organisation declared on a global scale ‘Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide…Every year, more people die as a result of suicide than HIV, malaria or breast cancer ̶ or war and homicide.’ As I stated in my recent Ten Minute Rule Bill on Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace, I strongly believe that if suicide were a virus we would be on the hunt for a vaccine, and if loneliness were a disease we would be searching for a cure.
I feel that the world has begun to wake up to the need for action. I welcomed spending commitments from the NHS long-term plan to include a new ring-fenced investment fund worth at least £2.3 billion a year. The increasing focus on mental health across all political Parties is also welcome. It is upon us all to ensure mental health and wellbeing is constantly on the agenda.
So, let’s not let Mental Health Awareness Week come and go before we focus on this important topic again. The stigma surrounding mental health has silenced too many people for too long, so this week, and every week, let us ensure the conversation on this important topic is made loud and clear. It is only by speaking about mental health that we can ensure everyone who needs support asks for support. In doing so, we may just save a life.