Write Your Own New Script for Mental Health

It’s time to have an open conversation about mental health. On Wed 1 February 2023 we are launching New Script for Mental Health. We would love you to join in this important conversation. Sara Boyce  |  Tue Jan 31 2023
Write Your Own New Script for Mental Health

As human beings we make sense of our world through stories. Our understanding and world view grows from the stories we’ve been told within our families, community and wider society. The most powerful stories can be unspoken, but nonetheless are deeply embedded in our culture and society.

Sometimes though, the narratives that once held significant sway, no longer make sense to us and worse, we begin to see the harm they’ve caused. Person-centred. Trauma-informed. Recovery focused. These are often buzz words that are poorly reflected in mental health care. The medical, disease model continues to dominate the mental illness narrative.

This is evident in a year on year rise of between 3-5% in prescribing of anti-depressants in NI, with an increase of 128,865 prescriptions for anti-depressants in 2021 alone, despite no clear evidence for how they actually work. It’s high time that we ‘surface’ the story around mental health. We need to start a new conversation that doesn’t begin with ‘What’s wrong with you?’ This approach locates blame within individuals and reinforces a medical model such as the belief that mental health problems are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

This dominant narrative brings with it much shame and blame for individuals. In essence it pathologises, depoliticises and individualises emotional distress. It also determines how mental health services respond, with the evidence on that score deeply concerning. For example, the annual spend on talking therapies amounting to roughly a sixth of what’s spent on medication.

The current mental health system’s priorities often run counter to the global trend, which recognises the need for community-based, non-medicalised responses to trauma and distress.

Man with microphone addresses audience while standing in front of a crowd with certificates in their hands

We all know the scale of mental health need and the huge issues facing anyone who tries to access help. Both are set to worsen in the aftermath of Covid and the current cost of living crisis.

Waiting lists continue to worsen – a 52% increase since April 2021 in the number of children experiencing significant levels of emotional distress, who are waiting for help.

Individuals who bravely reach out for help, face a 10-minute online consultation with their GP, a prescription, and if fortunate enough, the offer of short-term counselling. Even when referred for a mental health assessment, people face further lengthy waiting times.

Without question, mental health services have been starved of funding and must now be adequately resourced. Yet we know that our mental health crisis goes much deeper than funding alone.

There have been calls for increased funding of approximately 34%, or 1.2 billion over 10 years for the implementation of the Mental Health Strategy. Without question, mental health services have been starved of funding and must now be adequately resourced. Yet we know that our mental health crisis goes much deeper than funding alone.

If we don’t flip the script around mental health, we will fail to ever get to grips with this spiralling crisis, one which is costing us all so dearly. Our response as a society must be rooted in human rights and trauma-informed principles of connection, compassion, community and choice. We know that these are vital to healing when we experience emotional pain and trauma.

When a flower fails to bloom, we don’t blame the flower. It’s time to start addressing root causes. Injustices and inequalities. Asking people what matters to them and developing relationships and spaces where people feel safe enough to talk about what happened to them.

For more information contact Sara Boyce at PPR by email or by phone (07864074235).