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Opinion: ‘Is it any wonder that anxiety and depression are swelling to an unmanageable level?’

Columnist Eve Tawfick discusses mental health problems...

Britain’s mental health campaigns feel like a façade, as Brits are taking more time off than ever

Decades on from the age of dedicated mental institutions, psychological health is a topic that purportedly has been divorced from stigma – a societal move that has been a springboard for phraseology such as ‘taking a mental health day’ and ‘acts of self-care’.

Eve Tawfick
Eve Tawfick

Facebook reels are inundated with softly lit self-care videos that include clips of baby pink candles, bowls of soul-nourishing soup and expensive face masks. Yet circumnavigating our fast-paced, consumerist landscape, dealing with workaholism and burnout – how helpful are these prudently crafted imaginings?

Countless celebrity ‘advocates’ have come forward with their own experiences of anxiety, unhealed trauma and eating disorders.

In April 2021 US pop star Selena Gomez launched a campaign called ‘Mental Health 101’ through her company Rare Beauty – the singing sensation spoke candidly about depression amongst young people, saying she ‘wished she had been taught about mental health at a young age’.

More recently, after the death of The Young and The Restless actor Billy Miller at age 43 after years of suffering manic depressive episodes, a wave of Hollywood glitterati pledged their support for those facing chronic mental illness including Lady Gaga, who has her own charity called the Born This Way Foundation which is devoted to wellness among young people.

Buzzwords and billboards aside, mental health problems are still rife, and suicide is on the rise in both the UK and America. In 2023, 50,000 Americans lost their lives to suicide, exceeding stats from previous years. Brits have battered NHS mental health services, calling support ‘poor’. Health professionals have admitted the need for an increase in mental health facilities alongside resources and training. Those who can afford it have turned to private healthcare – stating that the ‘waiting list for proper therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy is too long’ through the NHS.

It wouldn’t be considered prudent for anyone to critique the effort of individual health professionals, but the way depression and anxiety are dealt with in the UK needs an overhaul.

Billy* who is 38 and lives locally, described his own experience when dealing with local mental health amenities.

He said: “I called the crisis team after months of feeling low and suicidal. I didn’t even want to call to be honest, I felt ashamed of my behaviour, I had also been drinking a lot, which is unusual for me. I stopped drinking heavily in my twenties but found myself getting into unhealthy behaviour patterns.

“After dealing with the team I felt even worse. I felt the person who I spoke to was judging me for drinking and they refused to give me anything for the panic. I was referred for therapy and a follow-up with my GP and have been put on an anti-depressant called Citalopram and don’t feel any better for it. I’ve given up now, I just struggle to get through the bad days.

“Nurses and doctors do a great job but I feel that no-one has time for you anymore. You just feel like a nuisance.”

Sadly, cases like Billy’s aren’t isolated and are becoming more commonplace. Many do feel that the system is broken – and that despite mental health campaigns, celeb backing and increased awareness there isn’t a lot of evidence that tangible action has taken place in the 3D world.

Companies claim that they ‘understand’ mental health and seek to ‘support workers’ wherever possible. Larger firms will often have an in-house therapist and medical insurance for employees – prompting mental health prioritisation within the workforce.

The Guardian newspaper hrecently reported that a ‘worrying amount’ of people are taking time off work due to a ‘feeling of hopelessness’.

A YouGov poll of 2,060 adults found 35 per cent had experienced high or extreme levels of pressure at work, with 20 per cent requiring time off due to poor mental health caused by stress in the past year.

If one were to approach their boss asking for a ‘mental health day’ it feels as if one, if not both, eyebrows would be quizzically raised. It seems that the only way to take time off is with raging septicaemia or a broken leg.

A video recently circulated online of a British woman quitting her job over the phone as her boss commented on having ‘three days off sick in the last few months - which isn’t acceptable for a probationary period’. The disgruntled worker, filmed by a friend, told her boss she would quit there and then after revealing her mental health struggles and need for a mental health day. This was met with her boss telling her ‘You don’t sound ill’. Feelings of guilt and shame are often experienced when taking time off work and a high percentage of Britain’s workforce feel they need several ‘duvet days’ a year.

Needing time off reportedly is a symptom of work addiction, as the stress hormone cortisol is released into the bloodstream causing sleepless nights, anxiety and poor cognitive function. If so many people are taking time off in the name of mental health it raises the question if our way of life is sustainable. Is it possible to raise a family, keep a household running, cook healthy meals and have a varied and interesting social life in the present day?

The British model of working, which expects us to fight our way through flu to put in more hours at the office, shell out for expensive childcare when it would be perfectly possible to work from home and act upon an invisible mandate of presenteeism leads directly to work-related anxiety. The ongoing cost-of-living crisis and pay that doesn’t reflect inflation has led to many seeking second jobs. Those who work full-time on minimum wage and have children struggle to keep their homes heated and cars full of petrol. In a country where we were told to ‘work hard, get educated, get on the property ladder, hydrate, keep healthy, keep fit but be a present parent’ – is it any wonder that anxiety, depression and suicide are swelling to an unmanageable level?

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