World Mental Health Day: let’s talk

Ahead of Word Mental Health Day on 10th October, we wanted to take a bit of a deeper look into the focus of this year – suicide prevention.

The figures from 2018 are worrying. For the first time since 2013, deaths by suicide in the UK significantly increased, with the overall rate rising by 11.8% last year.

Whilst suicide in itself isn’t a mental health problem, it’s linked with mental distress and people with a diagnosed mental health issue have been shown to be significantly more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and behaviour.

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), two of the most common mental health problems include depression and generalised anxiety disorder. So, whilst the reasons (it’s rarely just one) someone might take their own life are incredibly complex and nuanced, it is highly probable that mental health issues such as these are intrinsically linked with suicide.

But suicide is preventable. And sometimes the best way to help someone is just to listen to them…

Dixon Chibanda realised this when working as one of just 12 psychiatrists in Zimbabwe. There was only so far he could stretch himself. But, what’s one resource which Africa has in abundance? Grandmothers. So, Dixon developed a beautiful solution to the country’s pressing mental health needs with the Friendship Bench Project. He trained grandmothers in evidence-based talk therapy and empowered them with the skills necessary to help their communities.

Vikram Patel initiated a similar approach of ‘task shifting’ in mental health care in India, where implementing the kind of expensive and specialised treatments he had trained in simply wouldn’t be possible. Instead, he trained people in the local community to deliver psychosocial interventions for depression and anxiety, leading to 70 percent recovery rates as compared to 50 percent in the primary health centres.

Similar examples exist closer to home too. A nationwide project launched in Torbay in 2015, The Lions Barber Collective, trains barbers to recognise, talk, listen and advise clients (especially young men) with depression and other mental health issues. Also aimed at the male demographic, a campaign called It Takes Balls to Talk was launched in Coventry and Warwickshire in 2016, whilst the ‘Big Brew’ campaign harnesses the power of a cuppa to bring people together to fight stigma and help reduce suicide. Finally, the Safe Haven café in Aldershot is open 365 days a year, offering peer support for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

It’s clear from this handful of examples alone that talking helps in managing mental health issues such as depression, and thus can help combat suicide. So why is it still so hard for some of us to let those defences down and open up?

Often, it’s down to culture and the fear of being seen as vulnerable or damaged by others. Jeremy Forbes speaks of how the macho tradesman culture he is a part of traditionally struggles to speak about such matters to each other. Sangu Delle talks about how being a strong African man and addressing mental health aren’t conducive. And Nikki Webber Allen talks on her experience opening up as a high-achieving woman with generalised anxiety and depression.

But as these speakers all point out in their TED Talks, being open and honest about how we feel doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human. And building a support system and strengthening the community around someone are key in getting people through their darkest times.

So, the next time you’re worried about someone, reach out. You don’t need to try and ‘fix’ anyone, you just need to listen. Never underestimate the power of a simple human connection. Because it can be, and so often is, the power to save a life.

And if it’s you that’s struggling, speak up.

We’ll be sharing an update on World Mental Health Day later in the week to show how HOME is committed to encouraging honest and open conversation and improving mental health resources for our Homies.

Written by:

Leah Groom


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