As we wrap up Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, it’s crucial that we reflect on the spotlight that has been shone brightly on anxiety. We’ve aimed to raise awareness, hoping people can better spot early warning signs and understand that everyone’s mental health journey is unique and often challenging. Yet, as we approach the end of this dedicated week, we are left with a vital question: has it been enough?
Awareness days, weeks, and months come and go throughout the year. They serve as important reminders of various health and societal issues. However, when it comes to mental health, it’s time to ponder: are these moments of spotlight creating a lasting change? Or are they just temporary blips in our collective consciousness?
A Brief History of Mental Health Awareness
Mental Health Awareness Month, celebrated in May in the U.S., dates back to 1949. The initiative was introduced by the Mental Health America organisation, founded by Clifford Whittingham Beers, a mental health advocate with firsthand experience of the challenges faced by individuals with mental health conditions.
Each year, a theme is selected to be highlighted throughout May. The UK and the US have chosen to focus on anxiety for this year’s Mental Health Awareness campaigns. The US campaign carries the theme “More Than Enough“, a strong message of hope, inclusion, and the need for comprehensive mental health support. It underscores the belief that all people, regardless of where they stand in their mental health journey, deserve support, resources, and a compassionate community.
On the other hand, the UK also places a spotlight on anxiety, aiming to educate the public about the signs of anxiety disorders and promote early intervention. Both countries strive to raise awareness about this prevalent mental health issue and advocate for better resources, support, and understanding for those affected.
A Global Perspective on Mental Health
Investment in mental health services has been a point of concern across the globe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that countries spend, on average, only 2% of their health budgets on mental health. Despite the high mental health conditions worldwide, resources and funding for mental health issues are still scarce. The WHO has called for increased investment, particularly after the pandemic, which has exacerbated mental health conditions globally.
In the U.S., mental health has been recognised as a crucial aspect of overall health. However, funding remains an issue. A report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated that in 2020, only 43.3% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment.
Meanwhile, the UK government has pledged to provide ‘parity of esteem for mental health, meaning it should be given equal priority to physical health. However, recent data suggests that the reality is far from this commitment. In 2020, mental health trusts received only 13% of the total NHS budget, despite mental health issues making up 23% of the disease burden.
My Thoughts on the Future of Mental Health
While raising awareness is crucial, it’s time to make mental health a part of our everyday lives. It should be woven into our education system early, becoming part of the curriculum so children learn how vital wellbeing and self-care are.
Instead of selling the concept of mental health and leaving it to companies’ Employee Assistance Programmes or corporate social responsibility, mental health should be embedded into our societal fabric. It may be a stretch, but as reiterated in this year’s campaign message from the USA.
“All people, no matter where they are on their mental health journey, deserve support, resources, fulfilment and a community that cares.”
In conclusion, let’s not limit our concern and action for mental health to specific days or months. It’s a year-round commitment. American philosopher and psychologist William James said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” Let’s choose thoughts of empathy, understanding, and continuous support for mental health.
Let’s make mental wellbeing a part of our daily lives, from the classrooms to the boardrooms, and encourage open conversations about mental health. Let’s invest in resources, education, and support systems. Because everyone, no matter where they are on their mental health journey, deserves support, resources, fulfilment, and a caring community.
We all have a part to play in this, and every small step we take can lead to significant changes. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”