Opinion: Making the right call during Mental Health Week

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Mental Health issues are hot topics at the moment, and the subject of many political and budgetary discussions as the importance of our psychological well-being seems to be finally hitting home.

Most of us will be affected by mental health conditions at some point in our lives – either by personally suffering from a mental illness or because someone close to us becomes mentally ill.

Initiatives this month such as Radio Two devoting a whole week of Jeremy Vine shows to discuss mental health, and Mental Health Awareness Week (May 16-22) are helping to chip away at the stigma attached to this area of health but it still largely remains a topic we try to avoid openly discussing, making it even harder for sufferers to get much needed help and support.

Statistics from the Mental Health Foundation’s web site reveal some surprising facts: 10% of children and young people have a mental health problem, for example. If we become more open and talk about mental health as easily as we talk about broken bones, surely we will all gain in understanding more of such conditions and sufferers will not also be victims of feelings of isolation.

These young people will have better chances of finding ways to deal with their mental health problems and there will hopefully be fewer who go on to form part of the equally shocking adult statistics; In the UK, 70 million days are lost from work each year due to mental ill health (i.e. anxiety, depression and stress-related conditions), making it the leading cause of sickness absence.

The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year is ‘Relationships’, on the understanding that ‘good relationships are essential to maintaining good mental health’. These relationships may be with people in our family, our place of work, neighbourhood or simply those we come across in our daily lives. Reaching out to someone, or receiving a smile or kindly word can quite simply turn our day around if we’re feeling low in some way.

Although women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer from a common mental illness, suicide statistics show that men are the hardest hit when it comes to the ultimate act of despair: In 2013, 6,233 suicides were recorded in the UK for people aged 15 and older.

Of these, 78% were male and 22% were female. Perhaps the fact that women appear to generally find it easier to talk about their feelings and are more likely to have a support network in place helps to explain these figures, thereby reinforcing the benefits and importance of good relationships.

We can sometimes get so carried away with our busy lives that we neglect family members or friends and continually plan to make that catch-up call ‘later’. Realising that a phone call or loving message could either lift the spirits of someone, or help us feel better ourselves by sharing news and feelings can put the emphasis back where it should be – on cultivating good relationships.

So if this sounds like you, as soon as you finish reading this, pick up the phone and make someone’s day, or go and have a chat with someone close to you (without checking your mobile every two minutes).

It only need take a few minutes …