On World Mental Health Day, Cathy Smith, Head of Mental Health, shares what drives the organisation and its mental health experts to do the work they do.
Every year, World Mental Health Day is celebrated on October 10th. It’s a day dedicated to raising awareness of mental health and driving positive change for everyone’s mental health.
Alongside my colleagues, I’ve been reflecting on our purpose, our vision and our values at Vita Health Group (VHG). We are committed to making people better and this drives everything we do.
For World Mental Health Day this year, I wanted to take the opportunity to share more about why we – a leading healthcare provider – and our mental health professionals do what we do every day.
There has never been a greater need for mental health support
As we continue to navigate the pressures of an uncertain world, our mental wellbeing is constantly being tested. And it’s certainly no secret that mental health related conditions have increased at an astonishing rate worldwide.
Although there are many things that influence the development of poor mental health, we do know that the global pandemic followed by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis has substantially contributed to this alarming increase.
Today, millions of adults are experiencing the challenges of living with mental health related conditions:
● Over 8 million people are living with an anxiety disorder at any one time
● In 2021/ 2022, an estimated 914,000 workers were affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety
● Mental health problems represent the largest single cause of disability in the UK
● And, 1 in 15 people attempt suicide and 115 people die by suicide in the UK every week – with men accounting for 75% of those deaths.
Needless to say, the figures are as horrifying when we look specifically at the rate of mental health among children and young people:
● In England, 18% of children aged 17 to 16 years and nearly a quarter of young people aged 17 to 24 years have a probable mental disorder
● Nearly two-thirds of 17 to 24-year-olds – have a possible eating problem
● A third of seven to 16-year-olds and two-thirds of 17 to 23-year-olds had a problem sleeping in the past week
● And, 46% of adolescents aged between 13 and 17 say social media makes them feel worse about their body image and 64% are “often” or “sometimes” exposed to hate-based content.
These statistics really do lay bare the scale of the problem.
We are committed to making people better and for us the research highlights how important it is to do everything we can to support people with their mental health.
Everyone should have access to mental health support
What many generations before us failed to recognise is that mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health. The idea that the brain and body are separate is now considered to be an old-world view.
Although stigma and shame around mental health still exists – particularly for underrepresented, vulnerable and minority groups – thankfully society has become more accepting.
In reality, we all have mental health, just as we do physical health. And we all experience times when we feel like we can’t cope. But sometimes this can start to affect our everyday lives and prevent us from doing things we normally do.
The challenge – particularly in our world of information overload and misinformation – is that many people do not have the tools at hand to manage mental health. And if they do, they do not necessarily know how to apply them.
This is where the vital work our therapists come in. Our approach is people centric – we work with patients collaboratively to lessen the noise and apply the techniques that will help to focus the mind.
We can’t do the work for our patients but we are here to guide them in the right direction.
One of my colleagues uses a great phrase to explain this. He says it’s akin to being ‘a personal trainer for the mind’.
Ultimately, our dream at VHG is to help people live healthier, happier lives and a critical part of that is ensuring everyone has access to mental health support.
We want to give back to the world we live in
At VHG, we are all driven by a collective mission to improve lives, that’s whether we’re supporting the NHS, working with employers or helping individuals.
But as individuals, we’ve all been drawn to our professions for different reasons.
So, I decided to speak with some of my colleagues here at VHG to find out more about what led them to train as a therapist or psychological wellbeing practitioner.
Although not the case for everyone, most of the colleagues I spoke with told me they trained to be therapists following their own challenges with mental ill health, or after seeing their friends and family live with a mental health condition.
Whilst for others, it was their own experience of working with a therapist that led them to want to help people in the same way. One colleague told me: “It became more important to me personally after being diagnosed with ADHD/ASD as I find that this helps those who have struggled more because of undiagnosed Neurodiversity.”
And another said: “My own struggles lead me to therapy – it was an important space that helped me find my way”.
It’s a reminder that as exceptional and dedicated as our people are, everyone – me included – is human and mental health does not discriminate.
One member of the team shared how they were initially motivated by wanting to help widen access to support to ensure those from underrepresented or stigmatised groups could work with mental health professionals.
They said: “The reason why I became a therapist or psychological wellbeing practitioner initially is motivated by how isolated males and individuals from a BAME background are from mental health. Being in this role and having this platform allows me to spread awareness within a big or small way, it also allows me to represent those hard-to-reach populations and normalise speaking to others or reaching out for support.”
It’s clear just how privileged our therapists feel in holding a space for people to speak freely, in safety and without judgement. In a world that is so quick to judge, providing someone with a safe space to talk can be invaluable to an individual’s mental health journey.
One conversation I had summed the essence of this up perfectly:
“Life is often too busy and stressful for people that they don’t feel heard or do not have the opportunity to speak to anyone about how they feel… we may be the first person they choose to speak to about something really difficult or traumatic. It is empowering them to make choices about their lives and how things could be different. The power of sitting with someone and listening is so significant.”
The chance to make a positive impact appeared in all the conversations I had. We are all here to give something back to the world we live in.
Positive mental health impacts everyone
Mental health is not just integral to personal health, it is crucial to community and socio-economic development, too. There’s plenty of research out there that highlights how costly mental health can be.
In fact, poor mental health currently costs the UK approximately £118 billion a year. To put this into context, the total cost of the NHS in England in 2019/2020 was £150.4 billion.
At the end of the day, mental health impacts everyone and everything and that can’t be ignored.