October 10th is World Mental Health Day, an opportunity for people around the globe to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and the associated challenges.
Each year, the World Federation For Mental Health (WFMH) selects a theme that facilitates discussion around a growing mental health epidemic or challenge. This year, the theme is suicide prevention.
Close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year, and for each suicide there are more than 20 suicide attempts. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families & communities and has long-lasting effects on the people left behind. But suicides are preventable.
In 2017, there were 5,821 suicides in the UK. In England, this was a person dying by suicide every 107 minutes. Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 years in the UK and it is considerably higher in men, with around three times as many men dying as a result of suicide compared to women.
Juno is a female focused behavioural health start-up and we know that women are up to 40% more likely to experience a mental health problem – largely because we face particularly unique challenges at the intersection of our mental health and reproductive health.
However, it is extremely important to acknowledge that, sadly, suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50 in the UK and that one reason men are more likely to die by suicide may be because they are less likely than women to ask for help or talk about depressive or suicidal feelings. So, on World Mental Health Day this year, make sure you speak to the men in your life: your brother, father, son, uncle, nephew, cousin – friends, neighbours and colleagues – ask how they are, ask again, and really listen.
One of the key issues around mental health and suicide is stigma; the perception that a certain attribute makes a person unacceptably different from others. But the truth is, whilst we are all different in some way, each of us is fighting an emotional battle of some sort – yet we still don’t talk about our mental health. Perhaps we don’t want to burden family members or friends or be the subject of ‘office gossip’. But if we talked about it more, we would realise that we are not alone.
Not talking about our mental health can lead to feelings of isolation, despair and loneliness. Which is why a simple action we can all take is to be observant to those around us, listen and ask twice – the average person in the UK will say they are fine 14 times a day and a person who is seeking to hide how they truly feel is likely to do the same. By asking twice we can demonstrate that we are genuinely interested in their response and concerned about how they’re doing. We are also reinforcing that we are prepared to invest the time in listening to their answer – not just asking out of politeness. We don’t need to be experts in mental health to listen. We don’t need to worry about not having all the answers – we simply need to be compassionate and demonstrate a willingness to listen.
One thing that is important to keep in mind is the language we use when talking about mental health, and suicide in particular, which can, unintentionally, be stigmatising and upsetting to people who have attempted to take their own life or have been bereaved by suicide.
Although suicide does disproportionately affect men, as women there are a number of factors that affect our mental health, and which can make us extremely emotionally vulnerable.
Depression is a major risk factor for suicide attempts and other suicidal behaviours and depression disproportionately affects women[i] – who are two times more likely to suffer from depression – it is not insignificant that 70% of antidepressant prescriptions are given to women (USA).
Issues such as domestic abuse, menopause, eating disorders, and pregnancy also disproportionately affect women’s mental & emotional health. For example, we know that pregnancy isn’t always a happy time and suicide is a leading cause of death among pregnant women and new mothers, according to the latest MBRRACE-UK report.
During and after pregnancy, women can be vulnerable to mental illness due to shifts in hormone levels, but also because they must contend with the unrealistic expectation that pregnancy should be a happy time, which puts pregnant women and new mothers under immense and seemingly inescapable pressure – especially in the age of social media.
Then there’s menopause – although a perfectly natural occurrence for almost all women, it can have a debilitating impact on their lives, which is why women going through menopause are at a higher risk of depression. Menopausal hormone fluctuations can cause disruptions to your everyday life and have significant impact on your mental & emotional health – in fact, going through the menopausal transition significantly increases the risk of depressive symptoms and depression diagnosis in women without any history of depression[ii].
I remember clearly my mother’s experience of menopause – for years she felt tortured by her own body. My sister experienced the onset of menopause at a very young age as a result of cancer treatment – a treatment which also resulted in her being unable to have children of her own, which has been incredibly distressing for her. This is understandable – infertility is one of the most painful experiences for anyone who expected to plan a family.
Although not an issue reserved for women, we know that the impact of infertility affects the mental & emotional health of women differently to men. For example, one study found that over half of the women stated infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives. Another study concluded that women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer or recovering from a heart attack.
We are all human, and we all struggle. Whatever challenges you might be facing, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Given the prevalence of mental & emotional health problems and the serious impact these can have on people’s lives, our mission is imperative – what could be more important than improving quality of life!
For us at Juno, every day is World Mental Health Day. But whilst we’re working hard to break down stigma around mental health in society, there’s still much work to be done.
We’re committed to supporting those who are facing mental health challenges – but this will take a collective effort; if you’re concerned about somebody’s mental health, especially if you think they may be contemplating suicide, approach that person with empathy, patience and compassion.
Feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression or despair may prevent you from sharing what you’re experiencing with friends or family members – which is understandable.
You may find it easier to speak with a trained therapist
who can help you cope with the challenges you’re experiencing… which is why we
created Juno – to enable you to access the support you need, when you need it,
wherever you are. So, no matter who it is with, on World Mental Health Day, start
a conversation that matters.
[i] (Chaudron & Caine, 2004)