A YORKSHIRE charity has reported a 55 per cent increase in the number of calls to a helpline for people suffering from mental illness.
The Sheffield Mental Health Guide, an online resource which provides details of how to access mental health support, received 1,077 calls between April and December 2015, up from 695 in the corresponding period in 2014.
The guide is run by the mental health charity Sheffield Mind, which has also experienced a dramatic rise in demand for its counselling services from people battling issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.
The news mirrors the findings of a national survey published today which reveals one adult in four in England has been diagnosed with mental illness at some point during their lifetime.
Data from the Health Survey for England (HSE) conducted by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, found 26 per cent of more than 5,000 adults surveyed had been diagnosed with a mental problem. Depression, including postnatal depression, was the most common diagnosed mental illness, with 19 per cent saying they had received this diagnosis at some time.
The alarming state of the nation’s mental health comes as no surprise to the Chief Executive of Sheffield Mind, Margaret Lewis.
“I think the figures are quite illuminating,” said Ms Lewis. “The phrase ‘one in four’ has been around for some time but that always referred to people who have shown symptoms of mental health, rather than people who have had a formal diagnosis.
“It confirms the evidence we have seen here in Sheffield and underlines that poor mental health is something that goes across all classes and creeds.
“We welcome anything that highlights the issue of mental health because it’s an area that continues to face a little prejudice and which harbours some unhelpful attitudes.
“Some of the stigma around mental illness has disappeared and the increase may partly be explained by the readiness of people to seek help but there is no doubt that mental health problems are on the increase.”
Mental health support has long been seen as a ‘Cinderella service’ within the NHS and there is widespread recognition that more resources are needed to tackle an issue which is having a major impact in the workplace.
In March 2015 NHS England charged a newly-established Mental Health Taskforce with producing a five-year strategy for mental health that will be published in the next few weeks.
However Ms Lewis believes the responsibility for providing frontline mental health services will increasingly rest with the voluntary sector.
“Of course we need more money to help people who are extremely unwell but we also need to grasp the wellbeing agenda and understand that it requires a very complex solution,” she said.
“The impact of mental health on employers has always been understated. We do quite a lot of work with local businesses looking at workplace wellbeing.
“Much of the work is common sense, such as ensuring employees get a lunch break, that they’re not overworked and aren’t expected to stay working late until 8pm or 9pm as a matter of routine because all these things will have an undue effect on both their mental health and their performance.
“Employers who work with us see immediate benefits because people with good mental health are more productive, take fewer days off sick and are happier colleagues to work with.”
The reduction in support offered by statutory services within the NHS has put more pressure on organisations like Sheffield Mind, who have recruited a small army of counsellors to meet the demand for help.
“Our counselling service has always run five days a week between 9am and 5pm and required six counsellors, most of whom were needed for just half a day,” said Ms Lewis.
“Now they’re full-time and it’s non-stop for all of them, not just 9-5 but until 7pm two night a week and on Saturday mornings. We have doubled the number of trained counsellors we have and the demand just keeps growing.”
The HSE data showed that mental illness is more common in those who have suffered from it for a long time, or who have a limiting physical illness.
Forty per cent of men and 39 per cent of women who have been diagnosed with a mental illness have a long-standing mental or physical illness. Three per cent of men and five per cent of women have self-harmed, while four per cent of men and seven per cent of women have reported suicide attempts.
When estimates are made for the adult population in England in 2014, some 31 per cent of women and 17 per cent of men have been diagnosed with a common mental disorder in their lifetime. The figure is higher for men and women with the lowest incomes.
Four positive steps for improved mental health:
Do things you enjoy
Make time for yourself and do something you enjoy. Perhaps something creative like music or drawing, or something more active? Perhaps there is a hobby or interest you could pick up again?
Take regular exercise
Regular exercise really helps to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety and can give you more energy. Why not find an activity you think you’ll enjoy and give it a go?
Make time to relax
Try to make time for yourself and do something that helps you unwind like reading, music, meditation or prayer. Whatever suits you? Although it can be hard to relax, you can learn relaxation skills by listening to a CD. Your GP or local library may be able to help you with this.
Spend time talking
Keep in touch with friends. It is important to spend time with other people. At times we all face difficulties, can feel isolated and may need some help and support. Try not to be afraid to ask for it. It can help to share your feelings with someone you trust. Some people find it easier to call a helpline – that is why we have them.