Published: 8 October 2015

Viewpoint: Celebrating World Mental Health Day

Lady holding balloons in the sunshine

Peter Kinderman is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool:

“We are once again preparing for World Mental Health Day. Here in Liverpool – at the University and in the city, we will be celebrating the wonderful diversity of human experience as well as reaching out with compassion to people affected by mental health problems.

I wrote about World Mental Health Day last year, and I’ve obviously written several articles about mental health, about a psychologist’s perspective and about what we can all do to maintain our mental health and wellbeing. These will all be themes within the university’s celebrations.

Because World Mental Health Day comes around every year, we have the opportunity not only to repeat these messages but to review progress and to balance optimism and pessimism.

We have many reasons to continue to press for change and to raise the profile of mental health. We know (based in part on research conducted here in Liverpool) that economic and social factors – such as the continuing migrant crisis – are major threats to our mental health, and these aren’t going away. More domestic issues, such as the funding of mental health services, the work capability assessment, benefits policy and our media attitudes to mental health are all significant areas of concern.

But there are also signs of hope, of positive change, of opportunity. In facing these challenges, we are (at least in my opinion) seeing something of a shift in attitudes. Humane approaches to mental health are receiving support from politicians and health policy makers, with continued investment in services and commitment to higher standards and better access. More personally – of course welcomed by me as a psychologist – I see increasing awareness of a psychological perspective.

And I also see positive changes in public attitudes. A few years ago, there was a very encouraging debate in the House of Commons about mental health. In that debate, several MPs discussed their own experiences of mental health problems – with much genuine empathy and support from colleagues. I see that as a bit of a ‘tipping point’; when we may have stopped talking about mental health issues as something that affects them (other people, from whom we need to be protected) to something that affects us – we should be considering our own mental health and wellbeing and investing in those services on which our children and grandchildren will rely.

We should welcome the fact that celebrities such as Professor Green are openly discussing mental health. The combination of an awareness of the social origins of mental health issues (taking the focus from the individual brain to the shared experiences of life), and a psychological perspective (which emphasises how our supremely sophisticated brains – our organic, biological, brains – allow us to make sense of and learn from the events that we are exposed to) means that we can see our human frailties and eccentricities – including the ones we think of as ‘mental health problems’ – as natural, normal, consequences of our capacity to make sense of the world and respond to the events that shape us. The OnlyUs campaign celebrates this unity of purpose – arguing that when we imagine humanity divided into two different groups, we hurt those labelled as sick, ill, even mad. There is no them and us, there’s only us. And artists are, I believe, in the vanguard of helping us see this new style of thinking. Madlove (which featured recently in an exhibition here in Liverpool’s FACT), the amazingly inventive ‘Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland’  and the darkly passionate ‘Barometer of my Heart’ all portray the reality, depth, darkness, humour, fear, optimism but essentially the shared humanness of mental health issues.

So… with campaigners continuing to press for reform, with more enlightened politicians, with dedicated professionals, intelligent academics and partnership across arts, medicine and science…. I see reasons to be optimistic. Have a great World Mental Health Day.”

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