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MAY 16/2016

Mental Health Awareness Week: the story

Over the past few years, mental health has become something that's moved from the sidelines of wellbeing conversations and into the limelight. And it's about time, too, with the World Health Organization stating "there is no health without mental health".

For doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, this change has two key implications - most obviously in increasing opportunities for working directly in specialist mental health jobs, but also in a rising awareness of how mental wellbeing can be maintained in a high-pressure sector like healthcare. However, there is still a long way to go in terms of reducing stigma and ensuring everyone has access to the care they need. Today, we take a look at the role of Mental Health Awareness Week in helping to get us where we are today - and what it hopes to do in the future.

Taking place each May, Mental Health Awareness Week is run by the Mental Health Foundation. This year's theme is relationships, and the vital role they play in maintaining mental wellbeing.

Mental health awareness - holding hands

The Mental Health Foundation

Responsible for launching Mental Health Awareness Week 16 years ago, the Mental Health Foundation itself has been in operation for considerably longer. It started its life in 1949, when a neurochemist named Dr Derek Richter made a bid to secure more funding for mental health research - a particular (and poorly funded) interest of his.

The Mental Health Research Fund (MHRF) was the result. In 1952, the first MHRF conference was held, with the aim of providing a platform to all academic fields related to mental health.

The Mental Health Foundation as we know it today came into being in 1972, when its focus shifted from laboratory research to working directly with people experiencing mental health problems. To reflect this new focus, the organisation took on its current name and evolved into a charity dedicated to promoting good mental health for all.

Not content with only providing help and support to those currently experiencing mental health issues, the charity aims to tackle stigma, get people talking about mental health, and to help each and every person get to grips with how to understand and sustain their mental wellbeing. Indeed, the charity is equally as focused on prevention as current illnesses, noting that making people aware of their mental health is key in avoiding the development of problems.

As well as helping individuals, the Mental Health Foundation provides insight for and influences the governmental development of mental health policy both locally and nationally. And there's plenty more work to be done, with the organisation noting that, in addition to the high economic cost (£70 to £100 billion), current provisions simply do not cover need - it is estimated that only one in four people with a mental health problem receive ongoing treatment.

For healthcare professionals, the organisation provides a resource for understanding mental wellbeing and its impact on overall health - and not only in terms of patient care. Acting as an accessible bank of advice for maintaining good mental health, the foundation can help nurses and other medical staff take care of their own wellbeing - something that is especially important given the demanding (though rewarding!) nature of the work.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Launched in 2000, Mental Health Awareness Week is a platform not only for raising awareness across the country, but for reducing stigma, helping people understand how to help themselves and others, and getting people talking on both a national and community level.

Each year has a particular theme, such as how sleep or exercise can impact mental wellbeing, and encourages members of the public to show their support by hosting and attending events. These could be anything from staging a series of mental health-focused talks to running a wellbeing walk, or manning a stand in your local area to provide information. Participants are also encouraged to spread the word via social media to expand the conversation. The week provides an ideal opportunity to engage with patients on the topic of mental health and get them thinking about how to maintain theirs.

This year's theme

This year's event will take place from 16 to 22 May. The theme will be relationships, and how they, perhaps even more so than commonly discussed factors such as diet and exercise, play a crucial role in maintaining mental wellbeing.

So, throughout the week, the Foundation will be celebrating the relationships and connections that positively impact people's lives - and encouraging everyone to recognise these relationships in their own life.

What's more, the week aims to demonstrate how important it is for policy makers to tackle any obstacles that stand in the way of people developing these vital relationships. On a local level, it also hopes to show how people can reach out to those in need of support.

Crucially, this year's Mental Health Awareness Week will help us all recognise our important connections, and show how everyone - whether healthcare worker, family, friend, peer or acquaintance - can make a positive impact on the lives of those they meet.

Want to further your career in mental health? Find out more about our Specialist Mental Health team.

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