Mental Health is Everyone's Business

Carolyn Barber introduces her new book The Layperson’s Guide to Good Mental Health: Your A-Z for a Happier Life.

Author: Carolyn Barber

“Mental ill health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK, contributing up to 22.8% of the total burden, compared to 15.9% for cancer and 16.2% for cardiovascular disease. The wider economic costs of mental illness in England have been estimated at £105.2 billion each year. This includes direct costs of services, lost productivity at work and reduced quality of life.” 

No Health Without Mental Health, Department of Health report 2011.

With physical health, we all know that regular exercise, good diet, avoiding unhealthy activities like smoking and drinking alcohol, are the sensible things to do – you might not always do them, but that’s beside the point, you know what you’re meant to do. No one imagines that if you get yourself to the peak of physical condition, then you don’t have to worry about it for the rest of your life. And we all know that if you are ill, or in poor physical health for whatever reason, you’ll probably have to work harder to get better, to recover fully, and maybe you’ll have to change your habits or lifestyle in quite a big way.

In my book The Layperson’s Guide to Good Mental Health, the starting point is that we all have mental health, just like we all have physical health, and that there’s a spectrum of good to poor mental health, and there’s mental ill-health which can be disabling and extremely distressing. 

Most people will go up and down that spectrum during the course of their life experience, and many (one in four is the current estimate) will go through a period that they may call a really low point, a breakdown, losing it, whatever….. sometimes that receives a diagnosis, and often it doesn’t. 

Sometimes people get support from their GP and mental health services, and often they don’t. And somehow the shame and stigma associated with experiencing mental ill-health means that we can’t discuss our mental health in the same way that we might our physical health.

At the same time there’s a whole raft of really exciting new developments which will undoubtedly transform the way we look after our mental health and wellbeing in this century. Our scientific knowledge about how our brains work has grown massively in the last 20 years, and is still evolving. The Positive Psychology movement has generated a wealth of evidence about the factors that influence happiness, wellbeing, and a sense of fulfilment. Governments are now measuring the wellbeing of their citizens, based on these ideas. 

New approaches have come from people with lived experience of mental ill-health to support the ideas around ‘recovery’ and ‘peer support’. Mindfulness, now promoted by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), brings a spiritual, holistic, dimension to how both mental and physical ill-health can be treated. All these developments represent a move away from the psychiatric ‘treatment’ model which identifies symptoms without looking at the personal, social or community context.

The idea of an A-Z of good mental health evolved because there are so many developments going on that any layperson, and frankly many professionals, are bewildered by the mass of information out there, and how on earth to decide what can help. And it is confusing! Putting information in this A-Z form makes it more accessible, and also highlights certain themes. The themes are picked up in the second part of the book which looks at the 5Cs framework for good mental health, with some ideas about how this framework could be applied in relation to community wellbeing, and also personalised health and social care services.

“This book is well written, pitched at a level which will make it understandable to professionals and lay people alike, suitably broad in its scope and nicely balanced in terms of the theoretical knowledge base it draws on and the practice world it relates to. It is a very human book, in the sense that it captures well the intense suffering that mental health problems can cause, but also the hope and connectedness that characterise so many of the various efforts to replace mental distress with mental well-being.” Dr. Neil Thompson

The Layperson’s Guide to Good Mental Health: Your A-Z for a Happier Life, by Carolyn Barber, is available to order here.

Find out more about Carolyn's work, visit the Good Mental Health Cooperative website.

The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Mental Health is Everyone's Business © Carolyn Barber 2014.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.

Article | 18.03.14

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