This year’s World Mental Health Day, on Sunday 10 October, will shine a light on how inequality affects so many people’s chances of accessing effective support when they need it.
Mental Health in an Unequal World is the theme that has been chosen, by the World Federation for Mental Health, for the 2021 campaign.
The Federation hopes the focus will ‘highlight that access to mental health services remains unequal, with between 75% to 95% of people with mental disorders in low and middle income countries unable to access mental health services at all, and access in high income countries not much better’.
Mental health charity Mind, commenting on its website, says: “People from racialised communities, young people, and people living in poverty are disproportionately affected by mental health issues.”
Even within affluent countries like the UK mental health services continue to suffer from severe underinvestment with patients often facing long delays,unless they can afford to go private, between a crisis and receiving the follow-on treatment they need.
Supporting students and overcoming stigma
At University Centre Leeds (UC Leeds) the Student Support team has seen at first hand how such issues, compounded by problems concerning stigma and cultural differences, are impacting young people.
UC Leeds, however, is determined to do all it can to help students overcome such obstacles and recently became one of the first members of The University Mental Health Charter Programme.
Higher Education Student Support Manager, Emma Lockwood, said: “The Student Support and Widening Participation and Outreach teams have been working together for a while now to identify the barriers and inequalities students face when they try to access mental health assistance.
“As one of the first members of the University Mental Health Charter programme we are excited to work with staff and students to further address inequalities and barriers and create a whole-institution approach to prioritising mental health.
“A big reason for signing up for the charter was because we are aware that some students still don’t feel comfortable accessing support for their mental health.
“We asked for feedback from students which gave us insight into some of the barriers, such as worrying what their friends or family would think, worries of not being taken seriously and feeling embarrassed or ashamed of their mental health difficulty.
“It demonstrated that the stigma around mental health is still apparent, and this can cause people to lose confidence in asking for help.”
Cultural and gender differences, and long waiting lists
Emma added: “We have also become aware of cultural differences and expectations that can stop someone asking for support, such as mental health being a taboo subject or not feeling safe to speak to someone.
“And there is still a huge inequality between males and females accessing help, with some male students telling me what a daunting experience it was for them to speak to someone.
“If someone does feel comfortable enough to reach out there can be accessibility issues, such as experiencing long, off-putting waiting lists if they cannot afford to pay for support. The barrier of worrying what others may think can also stop people going to their GP, which can be one of the main avenues to access support.”
The value of personalised support
Providing the right kind of help for each individual is also a key part of the team’s work at UC Leeds.
Emma said: “We are very aware that one type of support doesn’t necessarily fit everyone’s needs, or that they may want to speak to someone who can relate to their own experience. We offer mental health support such as short-term counselling and mentor support but will also help with other factors that might impact mental health, such as financial issues, learning difficulties, physical disabilities or impairments and general wellbeing concerns.
“Current students can also receive plenty of information about the external support that might be more relevant to them through accessing our UC Hub here.”
Emma is also keen to highlight the great work that is being done by a number of organisations to provide targeted support for groups such as working-class students, Muslim students, trans students, and young black students.
They include Student Minds, Leeds Mind and Black Health Initiative.