I am a person living with depression. I welcome World Mental Health Day and any attempt whatsoever to highlight and raise awareness of mental illnesses. But the problem, I think, is that with any type of “Day” for example World Cancer Day, it lasts by definition only 24 hours. I hope, therefore, that once this day is over, awareness of the growing problem of mental ill-health will also grow.
I am aware of certain statistics; that in England alone some 4500 people take their own life every year; that the British Government has ring-fenced £1.8M to give to the Samaritans in order for it to do the excellent work it does; that suicide is the leading cause of death for males under 45. But the most important statistic of all is that 4500 lives could be saved – or at least prolonged – if more were done.
On my radio this morning I heard talk of the horrid growth of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses in children and young people – and that was the emphasis of the programme in question. But it is not just children and young people who need help.
I am 50 and I’ve lived with depression all my life. In that time, many different factors have been responsible for my ‘episodes’ – bereavement, relationship break-ups, sometimes no reason whatsoever, and sometimes unemployment and poverty.
Taking the last example there, I haven’t worked for three years; I’ve been in receipt of some benefits but hardly enough to live on with any degree of quality. I understand of course that benefits are designed that way, to offer those like me the barest minimum so as to incentivise us to find work.
I want to work but finding work is not so easy, and I know how it feels to be ‘disenfranchised’ and at worst ‘humiliated’ due to unemployment and poverty. Unemployment means poverty and loneliness means depression means unemployment means poverty and loneliness means depression means… It’s a life-threatening cycle that needs to have the brakes put on.
Employers have a responsibility too. I know also how it feels to be ‘managed out’ of a job by employers who must know and do more for their employees who might live with mental illness. And it should be a thing of the past when someone like me thinks twice about owning up to mental illness when applying for a job. World Mental Health Day might help in terms of employers recognising we have a problem, but I hope their recognition and awareness goes on beyond this 24 hours.
Shouldn’t love be shown and felt all year round and not just on Valentine’s Day? I think it should, and that’s why you’ll have to forgive my slight scepticism of anything, however well-intentioned, being given a special “Day.” The Dog, I have learned, is for life and not just for Christmas.