**TRIGGER WARNING: this blog mentions suicide**
The 10th October 2019 marked World Mental Health Day. The theme for this year set by the World Federation for Mental Health is suicide prevention. The latest figures show that each year around 800,000 people die of suicide around the world. These are striking figures that continue to increase every year.
Whether you are a "user" or a "provider" of services, no one is immune to life and the impact our experiences can have on our mental health. Whilst all the campaigns to increase awareness of #mentalhealth continued and the green ribbons took over twitter and social media, the 10th October was also full of headlines about another professional, a GP this time, who took his own life because (it is claimed) he feared he would lose his job if he talked about his mental health openly.
It is really saddening that we are still living in a society where it feels so unsafe to talk about our humanness. Reading that headline left me with a lot of sadness but also anger... it left me wondering, how many more lives need to be lost for the world to understand that professionals are humans too?
In the past few years there has been an increase in well-being initiatives for staff working in the NHS. But for some reason this still doesn't feel enough... lunch breaks, away days and better work-life balance are all positive steps towards a better work culture but they don't seem to address the "real issue". It is difficult to put into words what it is that is missing... I guess part of what is missing is the acknowledgment that lunch breaks, away days and better working conditions only offer a "plaster", a temporary "fix" or, as a peer and colleague pointed out to me recently, they offer a "smoke screen" so we forget for a little while that there are more significant issues within the system.
From personal experience, talking to peers and reading stories on social media, it is sadly still incredibly difficult for professionals, and particularly clinical psychologists, to share and embrace our vulnerabilities (more on this in my previous blog here). A common theme is that it feels unsafe on different levels to share our vulnerabilities as human beings when we are part of professional groups that are overwhelmingly perceived to be the "providers" of care and not the "receivers". But what happens when we inhabit both roles? Is it really realistic to think that any human being can be immune to life's struggles? I personally don't think so.
It seems quite obvious when you think about it that, no matters what professional role we inhabit in life, we are just as "vulnerable" as any other fellow human. Yet, when we, as professionals, share our humanness and are open about our mental health, the responses are not at all that positive. Some of us have had the fortune to have a supportive manager, mentor, colleague or supervisor. Others haven't. Nonetheless, from being pushed out of work to the absence of a "get well" card and the silences when returning to work after a sickness absence, navigating what to do in the workplace and the responses from "the system" can be more traumatising than what caused us distress in the first place.
What can we do about it? I am not sure at this stage. Sometimes it seems like an impossible task to achieve but I have also witnessed and been part of a lot of conversations that seem to be leading to the right direction. The reality is that this can no longer be ignored and something needs to happen at different levels to fight the stigma around lived experience of mental health difficulties in professional groups. The hope is that one day we will not only be able to acknowledge that professionals are humans too but also start valuing lived experience of mental health and stop being terrified by it.
Until then... let's keep the conversation going!
If you are a professional with lived experience of mental health visit the In2gr8mentalhealth forum.
Help and support
If you have seriously harmed yourself, or you don’t feel that you can keep yourself safe right now seek immediate help by calling 999, or going straight to A&E.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and need support, you can:
Call your GP and ask for an emergency appointment
Call NHS 111 (England) or NHS Direct (Wales) for out-of-hours to help
Contact your mental health crisis team if you have one
Phone a free helpline such as:
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) have a helpline (5pm – midnight) and webchat to support men
Papyrus is a dedicated service for young people up to the age of 35 who are worried about how they are feeling or anyone concerned about a young person. You can call the HOPElineUK number on 0800 068 4141, you can text 07786 209697 or email firstname.lastname@example.org