Mental health for many is characterised by questions. What causes mental ill health? Why are so many people struggling with mental health problems? What is the most appropriate treatment? Why are mental health difficulties still so stigmatised?
So many questions, but so very few answers.
This has definitely been my experience of mental health, and it is clear that urgent research is the only way that we are going to find answers to these questions and grow the knowledge base to start changing perspectives.
I was first offered medication for my mental health difficulties while I was at university.
The GP that prescribed them had never met me before. I’d only recently signed up to the university practice. And the tests she did to determine whether I needed medication consisted of her reading out a handful of statements and me saying how far I agreed with each one.
No physical examination took place to determine whether this was the right treatment option for me. Whether the drug selected by my GP was appropriate, or whether I really had a deficit in ‘happy hormones’ as the GP insisted I must have to feel the way I did.
It seems strange that this haphazard, trial and error approach to treating mental health problems seems to be commonplace, with often the only evidence to base the type and nature of treatment being the patient’s self-reported answers to questionnaires.
What would it mean if research could provide us with multiple different ways to diagnose and treat mental illness? Think of all the months, if not years, that could be saved of trialling different medications if we could develop a test to determine which medication would work best for that individual?
One of the areas in which I really think would benefit from research into mental health is primary care.
If someone is experiencing a mental health difficulty for the first time, their GP is potentially the first person they would speak to about how they are feeling. That means it is vital we get things right in this area. At the moment, I have a really supportive GP who has explored different medication options with me and who is really fighting my corner in helping me access psychological therapy – she is as frustrated as me that I have been placed on an 8 month waiting list for treatment and is doing all she can to support me in the meantime.
But it worries me that this is not always the case. I have had such different experiences with different GPs, and from talking to others with similar experiences I know I am not the only one.
I feel that if more research was undertaken in mental health, not only GPs, but other professionals such as teachers and youth workers for instance, would be more confident in talking about, and recognising the signs of mental ill-health.
This would do wonders for early intervention, meaning that mental health difficulties are recognised and treated a lot sooner, ultimately improving – and saving – lives.
While I feel things have improved a lot in recent years, there is still an awful lot of stigma around mental health and I still sometimes struggle to talk to people about my experiences.
While I have been lucky in that the majority of my friends and family have been supportive, I have sadly experienced a lot of stigma regarding my mental health at work, which has made me feel incredibly ashamed.
I know that I am by far not the only one, and that for a lot of people with mental health problems, constantly facing stigma can be as equally distressing as the as the symptoms of their conditions.
This is an area in which I feel research into mental health could play a huge role. We fear what we don’t know and don’t understand, and I think it is specifically the ‘unknown’ element of mental illness that is the driving force of mental health stigma.
Without urgent research into mental health, this stigma is only going to be perpetuated, making life even more difficult for those who are struggling. The more we know and understand, the less afraid we are, and the more we are able to talk openly about our experiences and support others.
The case for research
It is clear that there is still so much we don’t know about mental health. But through research we can change this – building knowledge that can improve treatments, challenge stigma and most importantly, save lives.
Last updated: 2 June 2016