The Mental Disorder Epidemic

You will no doubt have noticed, that there is a drive to make us all more aware of our mental health. We are informed that one in four of people will have a disorder in their lifetime. We are told of prison populations increasingly made up of people with mental health problems, schools struggling to cope with self injury and GP practices struggling with the demand from people experiencing mental health problems.

We are encouraged by numerous campaigns, that by being aware, we will be better placed to access the help and treatment that is available to those aware enough to go and ask for this help. Campaigns, that lead us to believe that awareness is based on facts, which place awareness in the realm of science and medicine, and imply that awareness brings resolution.

You would imagine, that all of this new awareness would coincide with an era where people are happier and more fulfilled. Where the incidence and outcomes for people who get help, are vastly improved. However evidence suggests that the opposite is true.

There are epidemics of mental disorders, people are living for longer periods of time being described as having a disability and living on benefits.

People prescribed antipsychotic medication, long term, have life expectancies that are up to 25 years shorter than the average. That those who actually leave treatment and services have the best outcomes. Also, the so called developing countries, have been shown to out perform our “sophisticated” paradigms of care.

If you add this to that facts that; no chemical imbalances can be proved as a cause of mental health problems, no genetic predispositions detected, and placebo has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants, you have to wonder what is going on?

Could it be that the nature of our awareness campaigns and their focus, are having the opposite effect than people imagined?

It appears clear that we need to ask some questions when people say we need to be more aware.

Whose awareness?
Who benefits from this particular awareness?
Can anyone be truly aware?
Are awareness and knowledge the same thing?

And, perhaps we need to accept that not knowing is normal, natural and something that can spark curiosity, and be a catalyst for change, something that can challenge and excite. As opposed to having to bringing fear, doubt and suspicion. We must be most aware, that the current fashion for Mental Health Awareness, is leading not knowing into a desperate search for meaning, and vulnerable to possibilities masquerading as facts.

Most of the awareness initiatives we see today, inform us about common mental illnesses or problems, they say that they aim to reduce stigma and encourage us to accept these problems as common and understandable.

They tell us to seek help and direct us to our GP. We now know that this is how the epidemic is working. Rather than creating societies where there is tolerance and acceptance of our struggles with our thoughts, feelings and experiences. Awareness has become an ever widening net. A net from which many do not escape.

Mental health awareness campaigns are changing the language of our emotions. By talking about depression rather sadness, anxiety as opposed to worries and fears, we alter how people react to us and our ability to care for each other.

It is common, when people use the new language of mental health awareness and describe their feelings and experiences as symptoms, to feel that people are talking about things that we do not feel qualified to respond to.

Leaving the only option that appears possible to recommend that they see their GP, which in turn increases peoples fear, isolation and encourages them to fight their feelings as opposed to try and understand them in the context of their lives.

Could it be that changing the language for our experiences in the name of awareness has consequences that, rather than empowering us, takes away our human skills and creates cultures that relies on strangers to tell us what is wrong with us.

Perhaps instead we can envisage a new kind of awareness campaign, one that encourages us all as human beings that are capable of ecstasy, enlightenment, fulfillment, passion, compassion, laughter and joy. To accept that combined with this capacity is the potential of also experiencing extreme sadness, fear, self-loathing, persistent worries, feelings of being totally trapped and isolated.

An awareness campaign that explains that for some people, life has run relatively smoothly, and brought happiness and contentment, and who have not been challenged by events that they cannot manage. Yet for others life can bring abuse, bullying, tragedy or events that bring them into contact with feelings and experiences that can feel and be overwhelming.

A campaign that encourages and reminds us all of the skills we all already have, and to be aware of the emotional capabilities of ourselves and others, to accept these experiences as a natural part of being human and to recognise and place in high regard responses of compassion, empathy, acceptance, respect and truth.

Perhaps such a campaign would create cultures that foster a spirit of greater togetherness and hope.

Cultures which accept and acknowledge that the distress that we currently attempt to compound by making people feel that there is something wrong with them, is rooted in the events that have happened to them.