This year’s theme is ‘Living with Schizophrenia’.
In a taxi the other day, I heard on the radio a DJ suggesting that cancer treatment be prioritized over mental health services. That was a jaw-dropper. Mental illness can be just as deadly as cancer. ‘People with severe mental illness die 10-25 years earlier than the general population.’
1 in 3 people will develop cancer in their lifetime vs. half the population will suffer with depression. 1 in 4 will suffer with at least one mental illness each year and 1 in 6 are experiencing mental illness at any one time.
Mortality rates for schizophrenics are up to 2.5 times higher and for the depressed it’s 1.8 times higher, than the general population. Those with mental health conditions also generally suffer physical health issues as well, but tend to receive worse care as a result, if they seek treatment at all.
High blood pressure developed through chronic anxiety increases the risks of stroke and heart attack, and panic attacks can be deadly to those with asthma. Drug and alcohol dependency is common. Suicide rates are ‘12 times greater’ among schizophrenics. Up to 80% of all suicides are by men and it’s the most common cause of death in men under 35.
It’s impossible to know the true body count for premature deaths directly related to mental illness, though I would guess the numbers would be comparable to cancer.
Mental health services are severely underfunded in light of the above and have been subject to harsher spending cuts than physical healthcare in the UK, which is ironic since unemployment, debt and relationship breakdown is typically much higher during a recession, and leads to a higher incidence of mental illness and suicide. Suicide rates were decreasing in the UK until 2008 when the global economic crash took place.
The gulf between the physical and mental health services is too wide, in both funding and management. If you’re taking medication for a physical condition that affects your mental health, or you’re on a mental illness medication that affects your physical health, you’re well and truly fucked. You’ll be passed from pillar to post, each side saying that it’s the other’s responsibility. I’ve personally experienced this. It’s not only frustrating, it’s dangerous. Integration and a greater level of communication between the two is needed to prevent patients from falling between the cracks.
Stigma surrounding mental health is lessening. More and more people are openly admitting to suffering with depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and agoraphobia. Less so with schizophrenia since the media insists on painting all schizophrenics as dangerous and violent criminals.
I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety. As I’ve said before, my mother suffers with both of those as well as OCD, agoraphobia and PTSD among other things. I find that most people are scared that their employers or potential employers will find out and will proceed to treat them differently, even discriminating against them when looking at promotions, hiring and firing. This is an understandable concern, but you can still tell friends and family, seek help from your GP and advice from mental health organisations, like the Samaritans, MIND and the Mental Health Foundation.