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VICE and Mind: widening the conversation

Friday, 01 May 2015 Eleanor Morgan

Eleanor Morgan, Senior Editor at VICE UK, blogs about why they partnered with Mind this week.

One in four of us in Britain will experience a mental health condition over the course of year. 

This figure – a quarter of the population – includes everything from depression and anxiety disorders to psychosis disorders like paranoid schizophrenia. Mental illness is real, pervasive and can affect anyone at any time, but you will all know that already. However, thanks to the stigma, lack of understanding and reluctant communication that still surrounds mental health disorders, we often feel defined by our problems, that we are our conditions. This is wrong.

"I hope a future version of me is able to ask for help much, much sooner."

Part of the reason why I commissioned The VICE Guide to Mental Health was to encourage our young, engaged audience to talk, to try and help shift the idea of mental illness from something that makes us “other” to something that makes us human. Normal. Just as one in four people will experience a mental health condition over the course of year, the same statistic could apply to people having a dreadful hangover or being late for a meeting. No one is one hundred percent well all of the time.

As a nation we have got much better at reducing the stigma around mental illness – thanks to initiatives like the Time to Change campaign and all the great things you do to increase awareness here at Mind – but we can always do better. As someone who has lived with a severe anxiety disorder for the last 15 years (I wrote about it here), I have only felt able to discuss it openly in the last few years, and I know many people who have had similar experiences. The generation after mine might be the first to view – and be treated for – physical and mental health conditions with true parity and that's really exciting. Personally, I hope a future version of me is able to ask for help much, much sooner.

"Barely a week goes by without a catastrophe in our services hitting the headline."

Another obvious reason why I was so determined to publish a portrait of Britain’s mental health – including an in-depth, shocking analysis of what’s happening in state care systems – was because our next General Election is days away and whoever comes into government on May 7th is going to have to address what has become a national mental health crisis.

Barely a week goes by without a catastrophe in our services hitting the headlines, and, to me at least, feels like a far greater, urgent issue for Britain than, say, immigration. A national bed shortage means people in crisis are being shunted all over the country for hospital care. Kids are waiting over two years for treatment and being admitted to adult psychiatric wards. In the 21st century, we are still seeing thousands of profoundly mentally unwell adults and hundreds of children held in police cells because NHS services can’t or won’t take them. When you read these headlines, it’s easy to feel distance from them, to think, “That’s dreadful but it’ll never affect me,” only, it might. Drastic change needs to happen, fast, to improve the lives of all the future versions of us, and I think we've made that clear. 

But why is this crisis happening? Partly, it’s because our mental health system is being forced to do more with significantly less. Excellent care is out there, but it has become too rare and takes too long to find. Funding shortages have begun to critically impact care at all levels of the system and people are dying. 

Among the bleakness, though, there are positives to be found. The increased numbers of people seeking mental healthcare does reflect improving attitudes to mental health. The stigma is decreasing, which means the fear of seeking help is being broken down. In turn, medical professionals are better at looking for – and responding to – mental health cases.

Because the public are paying more attention to mental health, so in turn are politicians, and improving funding for mental healthcare services has become one of the defining aspects of the election. Whether party pledges on improving mental healthcare will translate into reality is yet to be seen, but with parties like Labour pushing subjects like LGBT mental health (something we explored in detail) to the forefront of discussion, I feel reasonably hopeful.

"People have said they felt more confident about speaking about their own problems after reading some of the articles."

Over the course of this week we have run a wide range of original, human-focused reports, hard-hitting first-person articles (this piece by our staff writer, Joe Bish, on how you have no idea what the term "depressing" really means until you become ill was a favourite of mine) and a documentary film with the hope of widening conversations surrounding mental health, and the response has been truly overwhelming. 

Pieces have been shared far and wide on social media (my piece on anxiety, somewhat dauntingly, has been published across 15 different countries and translated into six languages) the most common response being, “Thank you, this is exactly how I felt." People have said they felt more confident about speaking about their own problems after reading some of the articles, which is all I could have asked for, really. 

Throughout all the content, the message is clear: mental illness affects everybody, and everybody who has experienced a mental health disorder wants to know that they’re not alone; that someone, somewhere, has felt as desperate and bereft of hope and has got better. That’s why we need to widen the conversation – if we don’t, the stigma will prevail. We might not talk. 

Becoming mentally unwell isn't a full stop, it's a comma in a sentence. I hope we have helped to make that clear.

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