Mental health reforms: a ‘frank and open’ opinion

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“As a country, we need to be far more mature about this. Less hushed tones, less whispering; more frank and open discussion”. I couldn't agree more, Cameron. A firm nod of my head as I read this on my way home from work in Melbourne, courtesy of today's The Brief. As the article mentions, 1 in 4 of us will suffer from mental health issues this year. £1bn pledged to transform mental health services in England: fantastic. It's probably not enough but hey, it's a start.

For those who know me, you'll know mental health is an issue close to my heart after my uncle committed suicide in 2010 (aged 47) following life-long depression. So I was heartened to see that The Brief's article referenced that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the opening paragraph. Great, I thought, there'll be some reforms to tackle this issue and articles picking up on this shocking statistic which can only increase awareness.

Imagine my disappointment when I flick over to the BBC article referenced to see a more thorough breakdown of the reforms and see no mention of any specific services to target male suicide or any reference to male suicide at all. I head to gov.uk for the official announcement. I get to paragraph five before they even mention male suicide. I reach the breakdown of reforms which include: £290m for new mums; £247m in emergency departments; £400m for 24/7 treatment in communities; and expanded services to help teenagers with eating disorders. Don’t get me wrong, I think these services and causes are all incredibly worthy and as I mentioned before, more funding is needed across each of them. But not a single mention about specifically tackling male suicide and the wider issue of getting men talking about their mental health issues.

I’m not saying male suicide and mental health is more important than post-natal depression or eating disorders. What I am saying is that they are less talked about. And that’s the fundamental problem. Cameron talks about ‘taking on the taboo’ surrounding mental health but how can this possibly be achieved for those men who suffer depression or other mental health issues and consider suicide if their issues aren’t even given much airtime in the announcement from the very people supposedly spearheading the change?

It gets worse. Paul Farmer, Chief exec of Mind and the Chair of the NHS England’s Taskforce on Mental Health didn’t even think male suicide being the biggest killer of men under 50 was worth mentioning: “Mental health is hugely important in any discussion about improving life chances and mental health problems can affect anyone, from mums-to-be preparing for their first child to older people at risk of isolation.” And, what about 6,233 men who killed themselves in 2013?

Jeremy Hunt didn’t have an answer: “We are boosting the mental health support available for young people with £1.4 billion over the next 5 years, putting more mental health professionals in emergency departments and helping new and expectant mums and their babies to be happy and healthy.” And what about the fact the male suicide rate is nearly four times the female rate?

Yes, older people are at risk. Yes, new mothers and babies should be happy. Yes, young people should be supported and treated effectively. But so should men at risk of suicide. These men are killing themselves. They are dead, not merely suffering from a mental health condition and we aren’t talking about it and we certainly aren’t dealing with it and I just don’t understand why we've forgotten about this substantial segment of the population. Forgive my blunt language but I just can’t get over how reluctant we all are to talk about, and worse, prevent the very thing that is killing our brothers, sons, uncles, dads, grandads.

So here’s my plea: ask the men in your life if they’re okay, let them know you’re there for them and for those with personal experience of mental health issues, please share you story in a way that makes you feel comfortable, or at least talk about it in a way that allows others to open up. Let’s actually start talking about the thing no-one really seems to know how to deal with and see if we can create safe and open spaces for men to share their feelings, encourage the government to introduce new services specifically for men and reduce the number who are driven to taking their lives.

CALM, Mind, Sane are just a few organisation that offer resources and support for those affected by or at risk of mental health.

IMAGE: From CALM'S Bigger Issues campaign back in November.