04 Oct 2023

Awareness days need action to make a difference

World Mental Health Day is fast approaching, on Tuesday 10 October. Awareness Days get a bit of a bad rap in some circles, as being all about the talk, when actually we need to see some action.

If you look at Google Trends data, you’ll see that over the last five years we haven’t actually been searching for the term mental health more in terms of a trajectory, although there are peaks in May around Mental Health Awareness Week and October in World Mental Health Day. This suggests that these days are important for getting mental health on the radar of the population.

Because it’s only when we’re aware of something that we can take action. It’s impossible to do something about an issue, if you’re oblivious to it.

But it needs to be more than ‘mental health exists.’ We need to be looking at what mental health really is, and the spectrum that exists between a low energy day and persistent lows, or severe mental illness – like that which Rethink Mental Illness are looking to destigmatise through their new TikTok channel that our production trainee scheme is allowing to happen. Yoga once a week can be a great soother, but it’s not going to address severe challenges. It’s important that any discussions around mental health recognise the nuances that exist. Given that there are 300 mental illnesses in the DSM-5 there is a lot of variation out there, and we need to be ready to be challenged about what mental ill health really means. 

We also need to look at the structural inequalities and situations that make mental ill health more of a challenge for some than others. Much of our social impact work takes place in the criminal justice system, including the award winning Prison Radio in HMP Wandsworth, the Mental Health Media Production Unit where films have reached 17 prisons, and Downview Media House which saw a number of women participants go on to university. The criminal justice system has a complex relationship with mental health.

Poor mental health is exceptionally common in prison and an estimated 45% of adults in prison have the most common disorders of anxiety or depression, compared to 1 in 6 in the UK overall. Although more than two-thirds (67%) of people surveyed by inspectors said that they needed help with their mental health, a Justice Committee report found that only around 10% of people in custody are receiving treatment for mental illness. Under such circumstances, the risks of people contemplating suicide are high: 21% of men in prison have attempted suicide at some point.

Our Production Trainee Scheme is about giving people with lived experience of mental ill health training, skills and employment opportunities, that they may otherwise have not have been afforded. We’re not saying holding a film camera solves everything, but it can give a purpose to creating a life worth getting well for. It means that having a mental health problem doesn’t have to hold you back forever, as long as someone recognises that potential within you, and provides support to shape your life in a way that is aligned to what you want. It’s transformed the lives of our trainees, who have gone on to have flourishing careers. 

Addressing some of the root causes of mental ill health, outside of medical and psychological, involves exploring the exacerbating factors that can trigger and sustain mental illness, as well as the barriers to getting support and help.

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘mental health is a universal human right’ – and universal means everyone. Awareness is about opening our minds and finding out what is beyond the things we see every day. It’s about asking ourselves questions and expanding our knowledge. Awareness outside of our daily life and personal knowledge is key, and we need to be prepared to look beyond our sphere of understanding as it currently stands. 

Let’s embrace awareness days. Becoming more aware can only be a good thing. But let’s be prepared to feel uncomfortable with that awareness. Be challenged. And be propelled to take action as a result. It’s then real change will happen.