Mental health conditions, such as stress, depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder, are becoming more common in the UK and it’s estimated that 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health issue each year. Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of people who have publicly identified themselves as living with a mental health condition, including England cricketer Marcus Trescothick, actor and comedian Stephen Fry and former political advisor Alastair Campbell. Each of them have helped others to understand that mental health issues can affect men and women, rich and poor, young and old. For example 10% of children have a mental health problem at any one time and depression affects 1 in 5 older people.
These days, talking about physical health issues, such as a broken leg or even heart disease, have become easier as people feel more comfortable and supported. Unfortunately, many people living with mental health problems still feel unable to tell others how they are feeling, and spend months or years struggling on their own. Yet initiatives such as ‘Time to Change’ are changing people’s perception of mental health problems and encouraging more people to feel able to talk openly about how they are feeling.
Whilst there are many things that can influence a person’s mental health and wellbeing including; biological factors, mental and social factors, it’s important to bear in mind that many people live with mental health problems and are able to lead positive, fulfilling lives. One in six workers experience depression, anxiety or unmanageable stress. A further one in six experience symptoms of mental ill health such as sleep problems and fatigue.Talking to others, making changes to lifestyle and using effective support services are great ways to enable you to carry on with life as ‘normal’.
Talking about mental health
When living with a mental health issue, sometimes the hardest first step is just talking to someone else and letting them know how you’re feeling. You worry how they will respond, if they will think you are just being silly or if it makes you look weak. Whilst these feelings are entirely understandable, thousands of people living with mental health problems report that the best thing they did was to take the brave step and talk about how they are feeling with someone, whether a friend, their GP, a colleague, a manager or a confidential support service.
Sometimes, it might be that you are concerned about someone else’s mental wellbeing and might not know how to broach the subject. You might think that you need to be a health specialist, or have some form of training to be able to discuss mental health issues – neither of these are true. Often, the most powerful and helpful thing you can do is to simply ask, “how are you?” or “is everything ok?” and to listen to what is said in a non-judgemental way. Some things that can help make the conversation a positive one include talking in a private location that you both feel comfortable in, giving yourself sufficient time so that it’s not rushed, and making sure that the other person knows anything you discuss will remain private. If you feel that the person may benefit from further support, you may want to highlight the benefits of them talking to someone such as their GP or Network Rail’s employee assistance programme.
It is still possible to lead a normal life through changes in lifestyle or medical intervention.Try to keep a diary of when you’ve felt depressed or anxious – where you were, what time of day, and whether anything triggered it or made it worse. This could be useful information if you decide to visit your GP to discuss treatment options.
Looking after your health and wellbeing may help prevent some problems developing or getting worse. Studies show that exercise helps if you have depression. Choose something you enjoy doing, as you’re more likely to stick with it. Ask your GP if they offer an exercise referral scheme in your local area. It is also important to maintain a social life as it can help you feel valued and confident about yourself aswell as providing you with a different perspective on things.
If you do visit your GP there are two main types of treatment they are likely to offer you – talking treatments and/or medication.
Self-help techniques can also be effective in managing the symptoms of many mental health problems and for some people mean that no other treatment is needed.
Talking treatments are exactly that, they help with your problems by talking about them with trained therapists. For example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) looks at the way you think and feel and helps you deal with your thoughts and change the way you respond to them.
Mindfulness-based therapies involve talking therapies and mindfulness meditation, and help you lower your stress levels and make changes to your life. With counseling, you talk about your problems with a trained therapist, and look at ways in which you can deal with them and reduce your depression.
Your GP may recommend taking anti-depressants alongside a talking therapy, but this will depend on the severity of your symptoms.