On Uni Mental Health Day, our Deputy Programme Team Leader for Psychology, Sophie Ward, discusses the stigma surrounding mental ill heath and advises who to contact if you're struggling.
University Mental Health Day aims to bring together staff and students and make mental health a priority in universities, as well as improving the future of student mental health by inspiring conversations, taking action and creating change.
Here, Arden University Deputy Programme Team Leader for Psychology, Sophie Ward, discusses the importance of good mental health, the prevalence of mental ill health, the issue with stigma, and what we can do to improve our own mental wellbeing.
Arden University staff and students photos in support of University Mental Health Day
The importance of positive mental health
When we hear the words ‘mental health’, many of us think about poor mental health. We have a tendency to think only about more severe mental health conditions, such as psychosis or bipolar disorder. In actual fact, we all have mental health - and good mental health is just as important, whether we have a mental health problem or not.
It can change from moment to moment, and have a massive impact on our relationships, studies, career, finances, and physical wellbeing, which in turn can lead to further stress, and in some cases, suicide.
Suicide can be a difficult topic to talk about; however, it is important that we do not shy away from it, and that we talk more openly about our feelings. According to the World Health Organisation one person takes their own life every 40 seconds.
The prevalence of mental ill health
Mental ill health is one of the largest causes of burden of disease, with 676 million people affected by mental health issues worldwide.
Over recent years, the incidence of severe mental disorders such as anorexia nervosa and self-harm have increased in young children, and while half of mental ill health begins by the age of 15, there is now an increasing number of adults developing work-related stress, depression and anxiety (MHFA 2019).
In fact, common mental disorders (CMD) including depression, anxiety, phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), are experienced by around one in six adults (aged 16+) in the UK every week.
The issue with stigma
Stigma towards mental ill health is a complex social issue that has a significant impact on those affected. Despite an increase in awareness of mental ill health within society, there are still many misconceptions about what certain diagnoses mean, leading many people to avoid seeking help or discontinue treatment.
The journey back to good mental health is often a long one and is dependent on successful engagement with treatment, informed by a diagnosis. It is important, therefore, that we do our own research to gain a clear understanding of what a diagnosis really means (the NHS website is usually a good place to start).
If experiencing mental ill health, we should also remember that we are not alone, and that receiving a diagnosis can enable a sense of belonging and a better understanding of why we’ve been feeling, thinking and/or behaving the way that we have.
What can you do if you or someone you know is struggling with mental ill health?
Talk to someone
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please speak to someone. This could be a trusted friend or family member, colleague, manager or your GP. There are also a range of external organisations (listed below) who can offer you support:
- The Samaritans (UK): / (116 123) - Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
- Mind (UK): (0300 123 3393) - Open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays)
- CALM (men) (UK): / (0800 58 58 58) - Open 5pm to midnight, 365 days a year
- PAPYRUS (UK) (suicide prevention in children/young people under age 35): / (0800 068 41 41 – Open times vary, see website
- Befrienders (Worldwide): Visit the website to find a helpline by country.
Please note that for urgent medical attention, your options are Accident & Emergency (A&E) and emergency GP appointments.
For urgent medical advice you can call the NHS 111 (England), NHS Direct (Wales), or 112 (European Union).
If you know or suspect someone is struggling, it is also important that you:
- Check in on them regularly
- Listen to them and don’t judge
- Treat them in the same way
- ASK TWICE
Many people will often say they are fine when they are not - asking twice can help a person to open-up.
Utilise Self-Help Resources
You may benefit from finding out more information on mental ill health and specific diagnoses, including potential symptoms, causes and treatments, all of which is provided by the above listed organisations, as well as those listed below. Some of these organisations also provide self-help tools and community discussion forums:
Have a go at Mindfulness
Mindfulness allows us to see the present moment more clearly. It can help us to get more enjoyment out of life and understand ourselves better, and is a tool now used by health care professionals alongside compassion focused therapy to improve patient mental health.