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Are we creating a Mental Health Monster?

On 1st February, “Time to Talk Day”, Maureen Watt, Minister for Mental Health in Scotland, took to Twitter and encouraged us “to take the time to talk more openly about how we feel”. Never one to normally need encouragement to air my views, I found this invitation too tempting to ignore.

According to the “Time to Change” Website, “Time to Talk Day” is a chance for all of us to be more open about mental health – "to talk, to listen, to change lives, wherever you are – at home, at work or up the top of a mountain!” Their website gives us tips about how, where, and why we might “talk”. Time to Change work with their partners, Rethink and Mind, and substantial funding of £16million from the Big Lottery Fund and £4 million from Comic Relief. It is important to note, their programme is evaluated by the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London!

It is Psychiatry who have created a system of mental health to attempt to reflect diagnostic models used in other areas of medicine. The current DMS 5 lists 370 disorders or illnesses for which we are likely to be prescribed antidepressants. Evidence tells us antidepressants are no more efficacious than placebos. Is it possible this current medical categorization and now inaccurate cultural perception of depression is actually causing more and more people to suffer from what they believe to be metal illness, according to Psychiatry’s classification of ordinary distress?

How much are we being encouraged, by a host of celebrities including Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax and Professor Green, who also support this unsubstantiated biological-based explanations of mental illness, to tell our stories about our mental state, rather than being given support to help address the real issues in our lives which are, in the majority, the true causes of our mental distress? Are we being persuaded to buy into the medical model of mental health as it makes things easier for those who could make change to social conditions affecting so many of us? Is this inaccurate and false perception of depression causing more and more people to accept they are ‘mentally ill’?

More importantly, I wonder if attempts to make mental health a genuine health issue are providing a front, enabling real underlying issues to fail to be addressed? Yes, more people are willing to talk about their symptoms, and support is good when available, but on a larger scale what does that really change?

Depression and loneliness are now a global health epidemic and we treat them as medical disorders, primarily with drugs. We fail to consider the environmental factors that underlie the epidemic such as poverty, bereavement, job loss, unemployment, housing. As the Government cut more and more funding to local communities to support initiatives to combat loneliness, how can we justify spending millions to talk about the issues we should be focusing on?

I agree, let us take some time to talk, but about the changes in society which could help prevent the onset of depression, anxiety and other symptoms we label "mental illness". The current strategy is not offering a cure. Through providing misinformation and false hope, could it be doing as much harm as good?

In all my years working with children in both primary and secondary schools I have very rarely seen a child I believed to be genuinely mentally ill. I saw many who were subjected to social causes of anxiety, depression and general feelings of helplessness. Children are affected by poverty, family and peer relationships, loneliness, pressure from school, social media and the list goes on. Today it can be a cruel world, but nothing is more so than allowing children to buy into the notion that they are mentally ill. Children need to understand that suffering is sometimes part of being a human. Whilst Psychiatry says ordinary distress and sadness is mental illness, we have to teach children that however painful their distress may be, it is, more often than not their normal reactions to the difficulties of everyday life.

We all deserve a chance to talk to someone about how we feel, if that is what we would like to do, but for most of us it is not going to change the reality of our lives. However, a diagnoses of a mental illness and medication, may change things at a detrimental cost to the individual and society. I agree it is "Time to Change"; change the language we use when we talk about our mental wellbeing and open our eyes to the bigger picture.