I Love mental health, but hate Mental Health Awareness Week

Woman with short hair and glasses sitting on her bed looking at her laptop.

Mental health and I have been happily entwined for most of my adult life. From volunteering at Samaritans aged 21, to becoming a counsellor in my thirties. Because I truly believe having someone to talk to can make a massive, almost immeasurable, difference to mental health. It’s a job I love. But I do not, and never could, love Mental Health Awareness Week.

I don’t doubt the intention is good. But my feelings are that peak mental health awareness has been achieved, and what would really help is better funding.

It’s unfortunately not the case that anyone who wants support will simply be able to access it at the point they need it. Waiting lists are long, the bar for referral high and staff burn out common. There are many charities out there that do a great job, but there’s are also an estimated 2 million people on the NHS waiting list. So the overwhelming demand far outstrips the supply.

But most of all I despise the way that during Mental Health Awareness Week every organisation finds a tenuous link to mental health to push their products. Or clog up my social media feed with their sudden compassion to all their overworked employees. It’s cynical, calculating and completely transparent.

What will make a real difference to mental health in the UK

I’ve been thinking about how we can all do our bit to improve mental health. As company owners, community members and individuals. If you really want to show support for Mental Health Awareness Week – and beyond – here’s where I’d suggest starting.

Business owners – if you’re an MD, CEO or hold any position within HR that has influence, then I suggest you start by asking employees what would most benefit their mental health. And then implementing it. The majority of employees will ask for reasonable pay, flexible working hours and to be treated fairly. It’s rarely a bowling evening or a team away day, despite how fun they may look on social media.

At home if you can’t give money then give time, and give that time consistently. Again a one off fun run, where you rely on friends and family for sponsorship, may feel rewarding. But generally it works best when millionaires donate considerable sums, and everyone else gives their time. Reading with a school pupil for an hour a week, every week of term time, or doing a regular, volunteer shift at a mental health service will have a far bigger impact on mental wellness than a one off fundraiser.

Within the community, the best way to make a lasting difference is to vote for anyone except the Conservatives. Although in 2019 they promised to treat mental health with the same urgency as physical health this hasn’t happened. In fact it seems worse. Under Tory rule there’s no funding for children’s holiday food vouchers. The NHS is in crisis and Rishi is pressuring people with severe mental health issues to get back to work. It all feels punitive rather than supportive and could lead to a mental health crisis.

If you’ve got any thoughts about how to make Mental Health Awareness Week more valuable and less performative, then I want to hear them. Please comment below.

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