Among the hundreds of awareness days that fill up the calendar, this years “Time to Talk” day fell on February the 7th.
Time to Talk is a national campaign, led in Wales by Mind Cymru and Hafal, with some funding from the Welsh Government. The campaign aims to encourage people to sit down together and talk about mental health, and the issues surrounding it.
Awareness days like these have become more and more common in recent years; just a few weeks ago it was Blue Monday, excellently hijacked from its origins in a holiday-booking campaign by the Samaritans.
Awareness days like these are a good idea, and perhaps having a day devoted to encouraging conversations around mental health could go some way in breaking down the stigma surrounding different illnesses. While talking to a friend or colleague can help, it may simply not be enough in many situations, and proper support and treatment is vital.
Depression and anxiety are incredibly common and checking up on someone who’s suffering can make a huge difference, but they are not the only mental illnesses. In order to target some of the more neglected mental health conditions there needs to be more investment into support programmes, funding for mental health treatments such as Cognitive or Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, more in-patient beds in NHS treatment centres and a better understanding of the range of illnesses that can affect people.
A doctor who only knows about lung cancer wouldn’t be able to help someone with heart disease, in the same way that a doctor who only knows about depression is unlikely to be able to give adequate treatment to someone with schizoaffective disorder. But until we reach a place where the NHS is able to provide all necessary treatment for all of the mental illnesses that affect people, the task of supporting people often falls to not-for-profit organisations, including housing associations.
Some of the initiatives established by housing associations do a lot more than simply encourage conversation, they provide a safe space, teach people skills to handle some of the symptoms of mental illnesses and ensure people have relationships they can trust.
One example of this is the work of United Welsh, who have recently started a project with University of South Wales psychology students to tackle the root causes of hoarding. This is a new way of addressing hoarding and is quite different to the “clean and clear” approach that is more commonly used, despite doing little to fix the issues that have triggered the hoarding in the first place. Projects like this demonstrate how housing associations are taking innovative steps forward in their support of tenants, looking to different techniques and methods of treating different mental health conditions.
The number of people in the UK who will be affected by a mental health condition every year is estimated to be 1 in 4, which is an enormous proportion of the population. For the majority of mental illnesses, there is effective treatment, but accessing that treatment isn’t always easy for a number of reasons.
#Timetotalk should be an opportunity to open a discussion on getting people the treatment they need, to talk about what organisations can do to support those experiencing mental health problems and most importantly, it should be seen not just as a time to talk, but a time for action.