Every now and again I will have a conversation with somebody who will say something that will make me stop for a moment and assess. Today I was speaking with somebody about the work I undertake and how my uptake in clients had increased significantly and consistently over the last year or so. She made a comment about mental health in Mansfield and it made me sit and reflect upon why this may be the case.
In January, Psychology Today published an article which highlighted a sharp rise in youth and adolescent mental illness and suicide. I explored some of the potential reasons behind this alarming report in a previous interview, however I wonder whether we are seeing a rise in mental illness in general and what other influencing factors there may be.
It is very easy to put the focus on symptoms, which works when treating mental illness, but as a society I often wonder whether we should be turning our attention more to causes in hope we can work on prevention rather than cure.
One of the arguments is, that the prevalence has not really altered much, we have just become more astute as practitioners at recognising and diagnosing. In addition to this, if you look at the PHQ9, any individual who is currently experiencing bereavement would quite easily meet the criteria of clinical depression. This however can often be a snapshot of a moment in time, and we would not always assume somebody who is currently going through grief has a mental illness. The challenge we have is that the topic of mental illness is so vast and sometimes people don’t realise it can be on a spectrum. So for example a mental illness could be something relatively short term (such as reactive depression, responding to a situation such as a relationship breakdown) or it could be severe clinical depression in which we could see a more long term prognosis.
Actually, there are other more sociological factors we should consider. Firstly we have travelled through a period of austerity which has had a detrimental effect on many people’s financial situation. As outgoings increase and incomes decrease, it is easy to see how things can quickly escalate and become unmanageable for individuals and families. The feelings of hopelessness and the lack of self-worth which accompany this can often prove too much for people’s emotional stability. We are also living in a society where technology and social media are becoming more and more prevalent, which means vulnerable people may become easier targets. Add to this the desire to fit in and the increase in societal pressures and you start to see a picture of why more people may be experiencing mental health problems.
Finally, we have just entered autumn, which means the weather is changing and this also has an impact. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), usually occurs between September and April and affects just short of 7% of the UK. For those people, the change in weather signifies a change in mood and one which can bring a general despondency and a lack of motivation.
Whichever way we look at mental illness, the emphasis needs to be on prevention rather than cure. Whilst this may feel like an idealistic and utopian view, with more understanding and more tolerance, we can begin to work toward this.