Human Interest Mental Health Politics

How We Can Tackle the Taboo of Talking About Mental Health

What happens when it moves from talking about society to talking about ourselves, as individuals? Don't just ask about what the government can do - ask also what we can do

 

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Jonathan Arnott Independent MEP

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In recent weeks there’s been a lot of debate and discussion on suicide and mental health, particularly amongst young men. We desperately need a serious effort to tackle a taboo that has affected so many people and torn families apart.

I’ve had more than one friend attempt suicide in the past; I’ve sat with people in hospital not knowing whether they were going to live or die. I’ve heard stories from friends who work in healthcare about those who’ve attempted suicide, only to feel emotionally better later that day or night, yet find that it’s too late for medical intervention. It’s an emotive issue, but it’s one that we mustn’t sweep under the carpet.

A colleague of mine, a Coronation Street fan, described the soap tackling such a tough and controversial storyline with care, attention and compassion. They’ve highlighted a topic in a way never before seen on such a mainstream programme. It’s so important that the mainstream media tackle these subjects in order to break down barriers and help people to seek help where it is needed.

Behind the emotion lie the somewhat chilling cold, hard figures. In my constituency (North East England), according to the Office for National Statistics suicide is among the top three causes of death between the ages of 15 and 45. Over 75% of those who commit suicide in the North East are men. Those at highest risk of suicide are men between ages 40 and 44 with 24 deaths per 100,000 population.

Family breakdown, unemployment, poverty, social isolation, violence, history of trauma or abuse and drug and alcohol misuse are the most commonly cited reasons for those who feel they cannot go on living. It appears to many, including myself, that these factors are often the result of social problems that affect mental health.

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Feelings of insecurity and a lack of support can lead to feelings of loneliness and desperation. When human contact is replaced by online form-filling, and a quiet coffee with a friend becomes a social media emoji, our modern world focuses upon physical comfort and convenience whilst neglecting our humanity.

Our National Health Service is in the business of saving lives, but the resources allocated to mental health remain woefully inadequate. That’s where the clichés kick in: we need more money; waiting times need to be shorter; more needs to be done. All of those things are true, but I don’t want to merely write a carbon-copy article of every other article in the history of articles demanding that the government do something. Suicide and suicidal feelings are personal, there is no medical handbook and there is no cure-all prescription.

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Collectively, as a society, we should do more. Yes, we should push for the funding and prioritisation of mental health and suicide prevention. Yes, we should push for these issues to be brought out into the open by mainstream media. We need to remove the stigma and the taboo of mental health and to improve access to support services without those feeling embarrassed to do so. It is never embarrassing to say you need help, that you feel like ending it all; so we must as a community do everything we can to remove the social barriers to mental health and allow greater funding for those support services to be accessible for those who may need it. Breaking down barriers does work – as has happened successfully, for example, with HIV/AIDS sufferers.

But here’s the real challenge. What happens when it moves from talking about society to talking about ourselves, as individuals? Don’t just ask about what the government can do – ask also what we can do. Personally. Who do you know who struggles with depression on a daily basis? Even something as simple as making time to spend some time with them, and give them someone to talk to, can make a difference. It’s difficult, sometimes, and for many months can seem anything other than rewarding. But one day, perhaps, someone might say ‘if it weren’t for you, I’d be dead’. I can’t think of much that’s more poignant, more emotional, more real than that.

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