World Mental Health Day - Are We Progressing?

Today, 10th October 2013, is World Mental Health Day, an annual occasion on which mental health, for this brief period, is forced, or should be forced, to the top of the agenda. So, in recognition of this auspicious day, I thought I'd just print a few thoughts on whether we are progressing in our goals of bettering the representation and treatment of those with experience of mental illness.
In terms of how mental illness is represented in the media, it would seem that any progress on that front has taken a blow with the recent Sun front-page headline, "1200 Killed by Mental Patients". Mental health campaigners have been enraged by such sensationalism. Once again, the link is made between mental ill health and violence, and, as I've often said in these pages, while one cannot deny that those with mental illness sometimes commit violent acts, it is an absurd misrepresentation to suggest that violence is some kind of symptom of mental ill health. Stories of recovery and achievement despite illness then remain extremely rare, while all too often accounts of violent acts committed by those with mental illness are the only ones which make the headlines. It must always be remembered that those rendered vulnerable through their ill health are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.
Which brings us to another recent story concerning the treatment of those with experience of mental illness, namely, that of Tom Orchard, a 32-year-old man with a diagnosis of schizophrenia who died after being taken into custody and restrained by police. In a related recent TV programme, it was shown that many with experience of mental ill health are increasingly finding themselves incarcerated in police cells rather than in the safer environs of hospital. In the case of Mr. Orchard, he was taken into custody after committing a public order offence, and was restrained with a type of belt, usually only used on the legs and arms, but according to news reports, also now used around the head. What actually happened in this case is yet to be understood, but Tom Orchard's family are insisting on seeing CCTV footage of the restraint, no matter how distressing this may be for them, in order that the truth can be known. So, conclusions are yet to be drawn, but one might venture that the treatment Mr. Orchard received at the hands of people supposedly there to protect the vulnerable was, at best, inhumane, at worst, criminal.
As this is World Mental Health Day, one should probably go further afield than one's own country in assessing how mental health is perceived and treated. On Channel 4 News last night, a segment of the programme was devoted to the treatment of mental illness in war-torn Somalia. As one might expect, rates of mental ill health in that country run higher than our 1 in 4 statistic, with over a third of their population experiencing some form of mental illness, no doubt due to the extreme trauma of war. Despite this, mental illness is still viewed by Somalis as extremely shameful, and the news segment concentrated on one man who had been chained by his leg to the ground by his own family for seventeen years due to his mental health problems. He lived in a makeshift hut and his only stimulus was listening to old Somali songs. Thankfully, the man was eventually released by his family to attend a hospital where he received medication, a shower and a haircut. Even in the hospital, though, some of the patients were wearing chains around both their ankles.
So, such things perhaps put our own worries about the state of the perception and treatment of mental illness into perspective. Having said that, all the stories above show how far we still have to go. On World Mental Health Day, then, maybe we can all make a collective resolution to improve the lot of those with experience of mental ill health. One would have hoped that more progress would have been made than is suggested by what's been written here, but with all our efforts, improvements can still take place.    


bazza said…
Hi David. I am getting back into the Blogging world again after a little break. Naturally I thought I would check your Blog.
You are keeping your excellent record of seeking to improve the image of Mental Health, I am happy to see.
I also enjoy when you post about movies; one of my favourite topics.
I am still working in Mental Health for the NHS. Currently in a secure adolescent unit which hopes to prevent young people becoming institutionalised and with some success I am happy to say.
Hope you are well.
Best regards, Bazza.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Hi bazza,
It's good to have you back, and I'm glad to hear that you're doing some fine work in the mental health field. I'm volunteering for the NHS at present, providing support for a local group which mostly contains people with a diagnosis of anxiety and depression. There's been a lot of bereavement and loss amongst them, so it's quite challenging, but, of course, rewarding too.
Hope to hear from you again, bazza, and as I say, it's good to have you back in blogland!
Very Best Wishes,
Rum-Punch Drunk said…
This is a brilliant article which covered quite a few things for me to think about.

Yes, headlines sell and it's a shame that the media has spent many times connecting mental health illnesses with doom and gloom. There have been many times when I don't understand why disclosing the status of someone's mental health had anything to do with the crime they committed. Not everyone is of unsound mind 24/7 and some people do know what they are doing when they do wrong. I'm tired of hearing - so and so did this because she/he was suffering from depression etc etc.

Despite what some say, we have a mighty long way to go in order to get the stigma out of society. My personal opinion, is that when a celebrity says they have a mental illness openly, everyone seems to think it is ok and people are encouraged to disclose they suffer from mental illness. Great idea at the time but, in reality, that's not the case for the common worker, for want of a better word. You could indirectly lose your position, lose your job, be deemed not fit to do your role and the list is endless and this can be done in an underhanded way. Not everyone is in a position of power.

Anyway, before I go on and on I better stop. You've given me a lot to think about.
klahanie said…
Hi David,

Sorry for such a delay in commenting. October 10, incidentally, was my son's birthday. Which means, I always remember World Mental Health Day.

That article in the Sun tabloid was an outrage. Yet, ironically, this can backfire on them because, mostly, folks are now more aware of the realities and not the sensationalism that some parts of the media use to sell copy.

Your thoughtful article, once again, does show that we still have a ways to go. And might I add this awful British government is not helping the cause, but hindering it. Of course, you knew that already.

It's heartening to read the comments of Barry and RPD.

Oh and Penny has kindly allowed me to use her picture icon in this comment. Yes, it's Penny, not me.

Take care and we shall keep going, my friend.

Denise Covey said…
Hi David. I followed your link from Gary's blog. You have posted very interesting things about mental health. Thank you. I will be back.
David said…
Hi Rum-Punch Drunk,
Thanks so much for your comment, and I'm glad that I've given you food for thought.
I can understand your point of view about connecting mental ill health with, as you put it, "doom and gloom". Unfortunately, there does seem to have been a few high profile cases recently which again involved people with mental illness committing violent acts, but, as I've sometimes said, just because one has a mental illness it does not necessarily follow that one will act badly, just as it does not follow that if one is of "sound" mind, one will act well. I suppose it comes down to the old mad vs. bad debate.
I also take your point about celebrities and mental ill health. It would indeed be nice to be in a position where revealing one's illness were not fraught with so many difficulties.
Thanks again for commenting. I hope you return!
Very Best Wishes,
David said…
Hi Gary,
Sorry for my lateness in replying, and as you know all about the state of the treatment and representation of mental ill health, I'll just say a belated happy birthday to Tristan!
Very Best Wishes, your way, my hirsute friend,
David said…
Hi Denise,
Thank you for your comment. As you will know, Gary kindly mentioned me in one of his blogs, so I'm indebted to him for sending you my way!
I hope I can continue to post interesting things about mental health, and indeed other subjects, to keep your brain humming!
Thanks for visiting and I hope you will "be back".
Very Best Wishes,
Rachel Hawkey said…
Dear David,

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet I came across your blog whilst doing some research. I was fascinated to read about the problems that are faced in th UK. My husband having battled depression for years volunteers with a charity in South Africa - where resources and equality are in short supply and mental health sits at the end of a very long list of needs. Prejudice and cultural stigma have added to an already chronic problem.
On a personal note we were at college together many years I am sure there was some powers at force that I found your blog.
Bets wishes Rachel

Dixie@dcrelief said…
Hi David!

Trying to find words to describe how I feel, about the content of your article, is difficult.

Seems we're not as far from the stone age as originally thought. How sad for those of us who live a life that needs special care, respect and love.

Why does it seem that acceptance is a four letter word?

I haven't been around much but had to come see what you were sharing. Thank you and you always write so beautifully... even when the subject conveys pain.

Most sincerely, Dixie
David said…
Hi Rachel,
If you are who I think you are, then I certainly remember you from college, and it's lovely to hear from you.
Yes, things are a bit tough in the UK at present, what with all the "austerity" measures brought in by David Cameron's government. In terms of mental health, it just seems like a recipe for more illness and fewer resources to deal with it. I'm sorry to hear that things don't appear much better in South Africa.
Anyway, as I say, it's lovely to hear from you, and please feel free to comment again.
Very Best Wishes,
David said…
Hi Dixie,
Thanks for your thoughtful (and flattering) comment. It is quite eye-opening to see how mental illness is treated in other countries, and also to see how far we have yet to come even in the developed world. Hopefully, things will improve.
Thanks, as ever, for continuing to comment.
Very Best Wishes, Dixie,
from your blogging pal,

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