This year’s World Mental Health Day (10 October) comes at a time when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Wales and across the globe, the pandemic has resulted in a rise of mental health issues and talking openly about mental health continues to be an important issue. This year, we hear from Lowri who speaks about why this year highlights the importance of the Time to Change Wales anti-stigma campaign.
There’s no doubting that 2020 has been a year like no other. Mental health has become a topic everyone is talking about and occupying global media territory like never before. Whilst this increased profile of mental health can only be a good thing, it is also a timely reminder that tackling stigma mustn’t be left behind. Experts warn that we’ve entered a global mental health emergency and that the far-reaching effects of COVID-19 will be felt for many years within our society. This is a period in which we’ve witnessed our lives and livelihoods grinding to a sudden halt. We’ve seen our support networks and our emotional scaffolds wane virtually overnight leaving many of us feeling vulnerable and unable to cope at times. Whilst I am cautious not to level up perfectly normal emotional reactions to a global pandemic such as fear, sadness and worry with more defined mental health conditions, the reality is that many more of us will be struggling or experiencing distress at the moment.
As each of us take a collective responsibility in keeping ourselves and others physically well, handwashing, sanitising and social distancing have now become our regular, quotidian activities. But have we given our mental health and wellbeing the same steadfastness, care and attention? I suspect not. Never has our individual behaviour had such a bearing on wider public health outcomes and I would argue the same is true about mental health stigma. Our most recent survey of individuals with lived experience tells us that self-stigma has increased significantly amongst those suffering from mental health issues since lockdown took hold in Wales. The survey also reveals that people are still experiencing high levels of stigma within their households, their communities, and within workplaces. Our work in tackling stigma has therefore never been so urgent or important.
"As each of us take a collective responsibility in keeping ourselves and others physically well, handwashing, sanitising and social distancing have now become our regular, quotidian activities. But have we given our mental health and wellbeing the same steadfastness, care and attention?"
Like every organisation, we had to adapt to the changing tide and the logistical challenges of delivering a movement from our front rooms. The past six months has transformed the way in which we operate as a campaign and that for the better. Our Champions have continued stalwartly in sharing lived experiences across virtual platforms –and delivering real impact from the comfort of their front rooms. We have seen some excellent examples of the steps taken by our employers in tackling stigma remotely and supporting their staff through challenges maintaining an open (albeit virtual) door approach to staff wellbeing. Some of this work may never have come to light had we not been forced to think differently and more creatively.
Whilst COVID-19 has and continues to present us with challenges it has also afforded enormous opportunity to reconfigure structural and societal norms and relinquish past behaviours which have proved to be so damaging for people with mental health issues. In some ways the pandemic has been a great leveller within society as many more people will have experienced mental health difficulties, some for the very first time. My hope is that this experience will engender compassion and empathy towards those where mental health issues are simply a way of life.
As we brace ourselves into a second wave of lockdown restrictions, Time to Change Wales will continue its mission to turn the tide around stigma and strive toward a better, a kinder Wales.