7th April 2017 was World Health Day, and the start of a one-year global campaign by the World Health Organization about the leading cause of disability worldwide (1). The disease responsible? Depression, which now affects 300 million people globally, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.
In the same month, Prince Harry, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Heads Together campaign was launched, as an umbrella charity for mental health partner organisations including Best Beginnings, Mind and the Anna Freud Centre. A range of high-profile awareness-raising conversations included a podcast interview with Prince Harry discussing bereavement (2) and Prince William Face Timing Lady Gaga to discuss mental health stigma (3). These welcome efforts at normalising the most stigmatised aspect of health received deserved attention from President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), Professor Sir Simon Wessely. He wrote that “No, it’s not rocket science. No, it won’t eradicate all mental disorders and no, it won’t work for everyone. But it’s a good place to start” (4).
At a time when the public may be starting to overcome the stigma of talking about mental health and wellbeing, there is a pressing need for practitioners to do the same. Following a bitter junior doctor contract dispute (5), morale among NHS staff is low. Many clinicians turn to the ephemeral social media community for support, with groups like ‘Tea & Empathy’ attracting thousands of members, despite being public (6). This month, the Royal College of Nursing said its members are “exhausted, morale is low and it’s affecting the care they are able to provide”. Its unprecedented poll showed support for a ballot on strike action, following a 1% cap on nursing pay in the face of 2.3% inflation (7).
This month, the RCPsych Psychiatric Trainees Committee (PTC) published “Supported and valued”, a review of morale among its trainees (8). The findings of their national survey and 28 focus groups, like the insights of Lady Gaga, weren’t rocket science either. Asked what changes would improve their work life and training, trainees asked for access to phlebotomy, electrocardiography and pharmacy services in the hospitals where they work. They asked for ergonomic rotas issued with a minimum of 12 weeks’ notice, and provision of work and rest facilities, 24 hours per day, including hot food and drink. If the health service cannot meet the basic needs of its employees, how can they be expected to do their best for the vulnerable adults and children they serve?
The recent announcement of a UK general election in June, focused attention on these issues (9). The Mental Health Foundation’s mental health awareness week (10) came at the perfect time, focusing on why many people are “surviving” rather than “thriving”. Widespread discussion and recognition of mental health in the public domain can only be welcomed, as an opportunity to challenge stigma and encourage early help-seeking. At Evidence-Based Mental Health, we support these efforts by WHO, Heads Together, RCN, the PTC and Mental Health Foundation wholeheartedly. We all need #timetotalk (11).
(1) World Health Organization (2017). “Depression: let’s talk” says WHO, as depression tops list of causes of ill health. Accessed 23.04.17 at: http://who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2017/world-health-day/en/
(2) Bryony Gordon’s Mad World (2017). Mad World: Prince Harry. Accessed 23.04.17 at: https://bryonysmadworld.telegraph.co.uk/e/mad-world-prince-harry/
(3) Heads Together (2017). The mental health marathon. Accessed 23.04.17 at: https://www.headstogether.org.uk
(4) Wessely S. (2017). Princes William and Harry break mental health taboos for a new generation. Accessed 23.04.17 at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/19/princes-william-harry-taboos-mental-health
(5) Keynejad R. (2015). Medicine’s social movement: #JuniorContract. The Lancet Psychiatry 2(12):1058-9.
(6) Royal College of Psychiatrists (2017). Supported and valued? A trainee-led review into morale and training within psychiatry. Accessed 23.04.17 at: http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/Supported_and_valued_final_20_April.pdf
(7) Facebook (2017). Tea & Empathy (PUBLIC GROUP). Accessed 23.04.17 at: http://www.facebook.com.
(8) The Independent (2017). Nurses vote on strike action after NHS pay cuts leave staff ‘struggling to make ends meet’. Accessed 23.04.17 at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/urses-strike-vote-nhs-pay-cuts-royal-college-nursing-ballot-janet-davies-low-income-a7681441.html
(9) The BMA. This is more than a Brexit election. Accessed 23.04.17 at: https://www.bma.org.uk/connecting-doctors/b/the-bma-blog/posts/this-is-more-than-a-brexit-election
(10) Mental Health Foundation (2017). Mental Health Awareness Week. Accessed 09.05.17 at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week
(11) Time to Change (2017). National Time to Talk Day. Accessed 23.04.17 at: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/about-us/about-our-campaign/time-to-talk