On Tuesday this week I attended a conference on children and young people’s mental health: improving care, treatment and support in Manchester. It was very informative and lead to many interesting discussions and exchanges. It also got me thinking about the gap between expert knowledge and the general knowledge people on the ground who spend an awful lot of time with children (teachers, parents, grandparents and friends) have. It’s made me realise that it is time to bridge that gap and I have been thinking about ways of doing this.
Mental health is neutral or positive: let’s not automatically link it to negative images and concepts.
Mental health is defined by Merriam Webster as ‘the general condition of one’s mental and emotional state’ or ‘the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life.’
This second definition is much closer to the World Health’s Organisation which defines it as: ‘state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’
I have already mentioned this in my book The Flourishing Student: Every Tutor’s guide to promoting mental health, well-being and resiience in Higher Education in the UK the word mental health is often associated with negative images and collocated with negative modifiers (which are not always accurate).
Mental health is a continuum, like physical health
Mental health, just like physical health is a continuum. We ALL have mental health, in the same way that we ALL have physical health. If you want to read and know more – please check out my post.
Sometimes, we are fitter than others. The important thing to remember is that, just like with physical health, we can develop a mental health problem or a mental illness which may last for a specific length of time depending on the seriousness of the illness but it means that we can also recover from that illness.
SEEEING MENTAL HEALTH LIKE PHYSICAL HEALTH, AS A CONTINUUM , IS MUCH MORE EMPOWERING BECAUSE IT GIVES THOSE WHO ARE MENTALLY ILL OR SUFFERNING FROM MENTAL DISTRESS OR MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS, HOPE.
When we develop a physical illness such as the flu or an infection such as tonsilitis, we know that we may be unwell for a while but that at some point we will feel better. This is the same for a mental illness.
‘Parity of esteem’
The Health and Social Care Act 2012 created a new legal responsibklity for he NHS to deliver ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health, which the coalition government subsequently committed to achieving by 2020. This is great news!
We, as individuals, also need to commit to this ‘parity of esteem’. One way to do this is to watch how we use the word ‘mental health’. Do we use automatically associate it with ‘mental illnesses’? Let’s change our language uses around mental health so that we can give this amazing word its power back. This, I believe, will mean that people who suffer from a mental illness or experience mental distress or mental health problems will feel that they can talk and be open about their symptoms, just ike people who have cancer or diabetes talk about their physical symptoms.
CHANGE STARTS WITH US AS INDIVIDUALS – LET’S MAKE IT HAPPEN! WILL YOU JOIN ME IN GIVING MENTAL HEALTH ITS POWER BACK.