Gordon McKay urges us to have a proper conversation about mental health.

Isn’t it about time those claiming to have mental health problems stopped making life so inconvenient for the rest of us and stopped whining and got on with their lives in the way that the rest of us have to? Apparently so in the eyes of the British media.

Two of the most recent widely covered reports on mental issues were following comments from media ‘personalities’ Jeremy Clarkson and Janet Street-Porter.

Jeremy Clarkson following on from his laugh a minute routine suggesting that striking public health workers should be executed in front of their families, said that ‘Johnny Suicides’ who threw themselves in front of trains caused great disruption for the public and that their body parts should be left for scavenging animals so as to prevent delays.

Janet Street-Porter in her devastating insight into the world of mental health claimed that depression is now a “must have accessory” and that if you suffer from poverty then you almost certainly will not be depressed.

While it sticks in the throat to excuse Clarkson’s crass mental health comments I will do so on the grounds that he is a buffoon, and that if the public do not stop watching the television programmes he appears on, for which he receives large sums of money, then hell mend us when he regurgitates this venom.

What are not excusable are Street-Porter’s comments, because unlike Clarkson’s morally wrong comments hers are also factually wrong. One in six people in the United Kingdom are currently affected by a mental illness. The World Health Organisation indicate that one in four will have a mental illness at some point in their life and that by 2030 depression will be the leading cause of disease in the world.

Street-Porter implies that to a large extent, but not wholly, depression is a made up illness and by implication that the people least affected are working class women. Two recent reports of health in Scotland put these claims to the sword in very stark language. Audit Scotland’s 2012 report “Health Inequalities in Scotland” show that more than twice as many females consulted GPs for depression and anxiety than males in 2010/11 and that those living in deprived areas have lower overall mental well-being and more GP consultations for depression and anxiety.

The second report in 2012 which was NHS Scotland’s “Scotland’s mental health” reported that the most common inequality in mental health was due to deprivation. Forty-two out of fifty indicators showed a direct link between socio-economic indicators and a poorer state of mental health. While not enough time has yet passed to show on-going trends it was confirmed that women at the starting point of 2009 were significantly more likely to suffer from depression than men.

The austerity measures of the UK Government make it likely that figures for depression amongst women in Scotland are going to increase when one considers that the number of economically active women fell by fifty thousand in 2012.

Oscar Wilde in the Picture of Dorian Gray wrote that “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.” It is certainly true of depression in particular and mental illness in general that acceptance, investment and treatment have suffered by a lack of willingness to talk about it. The effect of this has been to have a disproportionate effect on women and the poor. Being able to talk about mental illness is the first step towards prevention, let us hope that it will be a rational discussion because comments of the Clarkson and Street-Porter kind may mean that the conversations dry up. Starting a conversation about mental health is however only the first step in alleviating the problems. The next step is investment both in NHS mental health services and in the economy as a whole.

Gordon McKay is a mental health nurse and UNISON NEC member

From Healthier Scotland: the Journal

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