Into the New Year we go. The transition from one year into another will sound the ‘change’ alarm for many of us, representing the chance to better our lives in 2017 in some way or another.
New sparkly gym passes, a diet more rich in fruit and vegetables, maybe the beginnings of a novel that you actually intend to finish – countless ways with which you can enhance your credentials as a human.
But before embarking on a journey of self-enlightenment, just as it is important for us to look ahead into 2017 and set goals and targets to help us start the New Year right, it’s important to assess how the previous year went.
And well, what can we say about 2016? Aside from the obvious, which has had most social commentators and media outlets deploring its deadly – both human and political – nature, there was something quite wonderful that happened that could have gone unnoticed, which is precisely why I’m talking about it now.
The year 2016 was a watershed year for mental health conversation. The UK collectively spoke about mental health more than ever before. And we at Deepdene Care have been monitoring it’s superb progress.
But why? Why now – when 2016 has otherwise been quite a bad year and tough for many of us emotionally? A wonderful coincidence or a concerted effort to make mental health a real part of life? I believe it’s the latter, for many reasons.
I’d say the majority of the UK population are royalists. The most prominent family in Britain do have their detractors, but whatever anyone says about the royals they can’t really object to the sterling work Harry, Kate and William have done in bringing mental health into the public domain over the course of 2016, making it a topic with which everyone can engage.
From fronting the Heads Together Campaign, which is dedicated to ending the stigma around mental health, to the very personal disclosures of struggles such as the difficulties Harry faced after losing his mother, the three have served Britain well in helping to raise awareness and encouraging conversation around mental health.
They offer big voices and when they speak they are heard via TV, newspaper, radio and social media. Their voices carry credibibility and that is exactly the kind of thing mental health needs.
If they can continue their exceptional work in 2017, or even better it, then we are in for another groundbreaking year for mental health conversation.
A glamorous list including Brits Zayne Malik and Cara Delevinge, and American singer Selena Gomez, celebrities have been another driving force behind generating awareness around mental health. If the royals were doing it for young adults and adults, celebrities were doing it for the younger generations.
Again, personal stories of mental health struggles were key to encouraging young people to open up themselves about their own mental health.
As role models to young people, celebrities hold an important position. And the ones that use this position to talk about mental health and help their fans talk about it themselves should be applauded and recognised for their contribution to the cause.
We can only hope that more celebrities are able to open up about their struggles in 2017 to keep the conversation moving in the right direction.
In terms of Global politics, 2016 hasn’t been a great year for many people. Headlines have been dominated by Brexit and Trump mania, so you may have missed the small wins for mental health in the political arena. (Although funding still remains more of an issue than ever).
In her inaugural speech as the new Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May instantly endeared herself to proponents of mental health with the sentence that ‘if you suffer from mental health problems there’s not enough help at hand’.
Not only did this indicate that mental health would be a primary concern of hers and the UK government, it was also a strong statement to make to all those millions who read or heard her say it. Mental health belongs in big speeches and you don’t get much bigger than an inaugural speech as the UK Prime Minister.
Elsewhere in London, Sadiq Khan became the Mayor of London thanks to a campaign with a health component focused on tackling the stigma of mental illness and with an aim to improve the availability and support for those with mental health challenges. In addition, he penned an open letter to the Times and laid out plans for Thrive London, which aims to make mental health a priority in London.
Aside from England, the rest of the UK all made significant steps, with Northern Ireland advancing plans for a mental health champion; Wales getting the world’s first future generations commissioner and entering the next three-year stage of their 10-year strategy, Together for Mental Health; while Scotland appointed its first minister for health, Maureen Watt, who will focus mainly on prevention and early intervention of mental health. The country is also in the process of developing a new 10-year mental health strategy.
Mental health is a thing everyone has. Mental health problems are what some people get. Therefore, mental health is for everyone.
It is work like the above that serves to counteract the negativity and stigma that has been widely portrayed in the media over many decades. We have been chipping away at this stigma for years and now it seems all that hard work is coming to fruition, with much more media attention and social interactions focusing on the positive and engaging areas of mental health.
Thanks to this concerted effort, someone somewhere who used to be scared about talking about their mental health for fear of social rejection will use all the positive energy and disarming celebrity stories to feel empowered to talk openly about their own issues. And that person will be one giant step closer to recovering or finding ways to cope with their problems.
What a time to be alive.