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 RIchard Cunningham

Richard Cunningham, Service Development Director at SIL, part of Lifeways

There's never a shortage of things to be mindful of. But it's encouraging that in recent years, there seems to be an ever-increasing amount of public and open discussion around mental health.

As a professional working in mental health, it's great to witness the growing intersection of mental health and everyday culture: on news websites, TV programmes, and casual chats with friends.

However, in a world that flows faster with much-needed – and perhaps long delayed – discussions about self-expression and personal mental health and wellbeing, we risk losing sight of the deeper ocean of need.

Alongside the very real mental health struggles that so many of us face, including anxiety, the theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week, there remain many people with chronic and less-talked about mental illnesses.

Lesser-known mental illnesses

These illnesses and mental health problems include schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum psychosis, to name just a few.

To name just one example of a group of individuals who are both very visible, and tragically invisible: people living on the street. These individuals may appear unkempt and erratic, eliciting instincts of avoidance or perceptions of nuisance.

However, beneath their appearance often lies chronic unaddressed mental health issues that need our understanding and compassion.

Sadly, within the field of mental health, there are so many people at risk of being overlooked. And if we overlook some of the most vulnerable, stigmatised people in society, we risk also overlooking mental health issues present in so many more of us – not only rough sleepers.

The young woman with schizophrenia, sectioned in a secure unit.

The military veteran with lingering, long-time PTSD, struggling just to get by.

The new mum, suffering with postpartum psychosis, who’s being discharged from hospital to face her illness alone.

Crippling challenges

We need to acknowledge that mental health is not just about everyday anxieties – as challenging and serious as these are. Because tackling mental health problems includes supporting those who face significant, often crippling challenges in their lives due to their mental health.

At SIL, which is part of Lifeways, we believe there are still too many people in hospitals or other institutionalised settings.

And we believe that if these individuals had the right support and structure – which we strive to provide at 24 supported living services across England – could thrive in community settings, and achieve independence and life unrestrained by mental ill-health.

Towards a more holistic view

This Mental Health Awareness Week, let's view mental health through a wider, more holistic lens.

Let's think of ourselves, our friends, co-workers and family members, who may need support. And at the same time, let's advocate for the rights and well-being of individuals who have been more severely affected by mental illness.

If we can challenge the stigma around these less-talked about, but still very real, mental health needs, we as a society can far better help and support people with severe mental health conditions.

Together, let's ensure that no one is left behind in our efforts to improve mental health for all.

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