It’s Mental Health Awareness Week! Wooo!!! Are we all aware of mental health? Great, job done.
Raising awareness has been the primary campaigning goal of prominent mental health charities as far back as I can remember. If I see one more advert featuring Ruby Wax or Stephen Fry giving some snappy bullshit tagline, I’m gonna kick a puppy. This bullshit achieves nothing. What’s the point of dragging people into the light when there’s no real help available?
Raising awareness is easy. What isn’t easy is funding our services, or challenging people who consistently fuck up. For example, this year the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week is stress. So if you like, you can access their website for a test on stress, a leaflet on stress and a mindfulness course that costs £30. The message is prety clear: if you have a problem, fix it yourself.
Because that’s how we respond to mental illness now. The trend in the sector is not towards treating people, but towards telling people to treat themselves. Mindfulness is popular because it’s cheap. It costs zero pounds to tell someone to go for a walk and try to take notice of everything around them, although that won’t stop people charging £30 for it. We concentrate on prevention, not because that’s where the need lies but because we hope it will save money. Meanwhile suicidal people are sent home from hospital with an appointment in two days time, where you’re given another appointment for a month from now.
The awareness agenda is about putting the responsibility for mental illness onto people who are suffering. It’s up to YOU to get help. It’s up to YOU to work it all out. It’s up to YOU to navigate the services despite fragmented regional offers that are often incomprehensible to non-professionals. It’s up to YOU to fix everything in your life all at once. Where psychological therapies are available, the waiting list is huge and the offer is usually limited to just six sessions. That doesn’t go very far when someone is trying to unravel years of trauma, illness or abuse.
Awareness is bullshit. We need money. We need funding. We need the removal of structural barriers. We need action to force employers to reduce the stress they put on employees. We need to force local NHS trusts to make their mental health offer transparent and easy to access, without anyone having to go through their GP. We need action on racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, ableism and classism, because these are some of the biggest risk factors. We need more funding for drug services, domestic violence services and gambling addiction services.
It isn’t good enough to waste money telling people to become more resilient. We need to make people’s lives better. We’ve got all the tools to do this. We know exactly what works – people just need to put their hands in their pockets.