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According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in four British adults will experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year, and one in six will be suffering at any one time. We see statistics of all sorts every day, and it can be all too easy to let them simply go over your head, but these ones really ought to stand out. It is very likely that somebody you know, a friend, relative, work colleague or housemate, will be dealing with some sort of mental health problem right at this moment. Mental health disorders are indeed some of the most common illnesses afflicting people in the UK today, and this means that they are having a great impact on today’s society, with stress, anxiety and depression the most common of these conditions. The Mental Health Foundation state that just under 9% of the population would meet the criteria for diagnosis with one of these conditions.
This figure is eye-opening, but it seems that the prevalence of stress, depression and anxiety is increasing amongst young adults. According to the Royal College of GPs, doctors have been seeing a steady increase in the numbers of 15-34 year olds suffering from anxiety or depression in varying degrees since the start of the economic crisis. Symptoms of these conditions are often triggered by life events, and the consequences of the recession can create somewhat of a perfect storm for students, graduates and working people alike; stress caused by exams, high workloads and finding and keeping a job, amongst other factors, can quickly cause stress, anxiety and depression, amongst other problems. For many people these issues can spiral out of control.
Despite it being clear that mental illness is very common and on the rise in our society, there is unfortunately still a strong stigma attached to it. Many people still do not understand the difference between mere emotions and actual mental disorders. Often, people who are depressed will seem outwardly happy to the people around them; depression does not simply mean a feeling of sadness. Furthermore, diagnosis is difficult. The symptoms of many mental conditions overlap and there are few physical signs of mental illness, meaning that it is generally down to the patient to explain what is going on inside their head. Even for a perfectly healthy and happy person, it is not easy to sum up one’s mood in more than a few words, let alone in enough detail to diagnose a potentially serious disorder. The media is also guilty of exacerbating the stigma surrounding mental health conditions; the tabloid press regularly run stories about criminals with mental illnesses, meaning that many people are led to believe that people with mental illnesses are ‘crazy’, or inherently violent or dangerous. We can only hope that such attitudes will fade as the public becomes more aware of the reality of mental illness.
There is much which we can do ourselves to change the way we view mental illness. The more we talk about mental health, as we do about any other medical conditions, the more comfortable people will be in seeking help when they need it. If you think, or know, that somebody close to you is suffering from any sort of mental health condition, do not be afraid to talk to them about it. Do not feel under pressure to solve the problem single-handed; any simple gesture, a ‘how are you?’ or an offer of a cup of tea, can let the person know that you are there for them if they need you. If you feel as if you are suffering in some way yourself, there is much help available. A trip to the doctor is one option, and a GP could help you better understand what you are going through. If, however, you do not feel comfortable talking to a doctor immediately, you will be able to find a wealth of resources on the internet to help you better understand your situation. The University has a counselling service available, as well as the Nightline service, if you just want to talk to somebody. Above all, no matter how isolated you may feel, you are absolutely not alone.