Opinion: Getting our heads together to tackle mental health issues

Graham Storer
Graham Storer

Last week was national Mental Health Week. What springs to mind when mental health is mentioned?

I may be wrong, but often subconsciously the word “problem” is appended and thinking goes on auto-pilot down the mental illness track. Let’s not do that here.

The fact is that we all have mental health just as we all have physical health and neither are static. They both go up and down according to prevailing circumstances.

My highs and lows are simply variations from my average state. I break a leg. The plaster cast advertises the fact and people’s sympathy pours out! My mobility quotient takes a nosedive while I recover, but there is no stigma attached to me.

There is likely some mild amusement at my expense if I brought it upon myself by an act of stupidity but nobody work, home or in finances (or all three) build up inside and my confidence and self-esteem dive?

Unlike my broken leg, nobody will likely realise anything is wrong. I hide my brokenness behind a mask of normality. I become disconnected from my normal self and from those around me.

I get no support because I do not open up. Why do I not open up? It’s the familiar word, stigma. I fear showing weakness and feeling humiliated. Do you remember Brenda of Bristol who expressed her feelings on camera about a sudden general election being called? She was not a happy woman.

I had empathy with her but my spirits were raised by another story the same day which also went viral.

Princes William and Harry spoke of the impact that their mother Diana’s death had on long-term mental health. In a Telegraph interview, Prince Harry described two years of chaos in his life. Encouraged by his brother, he finally sought counselling to address feelings such as anxiety at royal engagements thinks the worse of me.

Everybody understands.

What happens if I suffer a mental accident? What if pressures on me at and anger verging on punching somebody. What caused two Princes – with privileged and powerful positions - to hold back for two decades?

Most likely one word, stigma. How would they appear to others if they opened up honestly about themselves?

They were expected to show a stiff upper lip and fortitude, not what some would view as weakness.

The brothers served in the military and Harry saw first-hand the effect that combat stress can have on the mental wellbeing of comrades.

That was a turning point in Harry’s thinking.

“Because of the process I have been through over the past two and a half years, I’ve now been able to take my work seriously, been able to take my private life seriously as well, and been able to put blood, sweat and tears into the things that really make a difference and things that I think will make a difference to everybody else.”

An outcome was ‘Heads Together’, an initiative headed by the Princes to work with charities like MIND to end the stigma of mental health problems. They are no respecters of people.

A stark fact is that one of four of us will experience a mental health problem this year. One in six suffer a common problem such as anxiety or depression

in any given week.

Yet we are inhibited in talking about it because we don’t have a language for discussion.

What do we say to someone? How should we behave?

That will be the topic of a Whitby workshop in the early autumn to be hosted by MIND in conjunction with Faith Action. It will highlight good practice through theory, personal stories and local community-based actions.

Yes, we’ll be getting ourn heads together.