Mental health is a broad term. It encompasses our social, emotional, and psychological wellbeing. Good mental health is achieved by having balance in all of these areas.
Just as physical wellbeing is not just about being free from illness or disease, mental wellbeing is not just about being free from mental illness. It’s about being able to enjoy life and deal with the ups and downs it presents in a healthy way, it’s about being able to connect with others, and to allow ourselves to experience emotions.
Modern life is very stressful, and while it can offer us many more opportunities than previous generations would have had, there are also many more stressors. Continual stress can impact upon our mental health, and just like we notice if there’s something physically wrong with our body, we should be aware of when our mental health needs attention.
The prevalence of mental ill health in the UK
Two thirds of people in the UK have had some kind of mental health problem at some point in their lives, according to a survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation. The figures make for worrying reading, and they suggest the problem is getting worse.
The Mental Health Foundation Survey
Back in March, the Mental Health Foundation commissioned a survey to get a true current picture of the prevalence of mental health problems in the UK, and the strategies that people were using to cope with stressors in their lives. A total of 2,290 interviews were conducted, either online or via telephone.
We all know that the World Health Organisation statistics say that 1 in 4 people are affected by mental health problems globally, but worryingly, the Mental Health Foundation Survey seems to suggest that mental health problems are far more prevalent than this in the UK.
70% of respondents between the ages of 18-34 and 68% of those aged 35-54 said they have experienced a mental health problem. This illustrates the scale of the problem of mental ill health. The Mental Health Foundation say that this reiterates that mental illness is not just experienced by a minority of people. Yet only a minority are getting access to professional support.
There is a need for a change in focus from treating mental ill health to preventing it in the first place. The survey coincided with a government election pledge to bring in new mental health legislation around mental health support in schools and awareness in the workplace.
Key findings of the survey
Who is most likely to suffer from mental ill health?
7 out of every 10 women, young adults aged 18-34, and people living alone reported more incidence of mental ill health. People over the age of 55 reported better than average mental health. This is attributed to the fact that people over the age of 55 tend to take steps to help them cope with and enjoy everyday life. They spend more time with friends and family, they spend more time on hobbies and interests. They get enough sleep, they eat well, and they learn new things.
Does income play a role in mental health?
It appears so. Almost 3 in 4 people living in the lowest household income bracket reported having experienced a mental health problem. 6 out of every 10 people in the highest income bracket reported that they had suffered from mental illness.
A massive 85% of people who are out of work have experienced mental ill health. This is compared to two thirds of people in work, and a little over half of people who are retired.
Which conditions are most prevalent?
More than 4 in 10 people say they have experienced depression at some point. Over a quarter of people report that they have experienced panic attacks.
How many people say they have good mental health?
Only 13% of respondents reported that they had good mental health.
What can we do?
There has been a lot of talk about making mental health as much of a priority as physical health. Sadly, the reality is that service provision is still lacking, and many people don’t have access to professional help.
The Mental Health Foundation has come up with a 5-point plan to address this. They hope it will go some way to bridging the gap between the provision for physical and mental health. Included is a call for mental health screening to become a part of standard health screening programmes. They want to see increased funding for mental health research. They want the focus to move from treatment of mental illness to prevention. Additionally, they plan to produce an annual report on the state of the nation’s mental health and to set up a commission specifically to look at the prevention of mental ill health.
The real state of the nation
Whatever the rhetoric, the truth is that the number of people who have good mental health is worryingly low. Much has been done to improve and maintain physical health, but what about the health of our minds? Physical and mental health are intertwined; one simply can’t exist without the other.
There are positives, in that m