The mental illness epidemic: lost on the road to wellbeing

I recently heard Chris Ruane, MP, speak and he reeled off some shocking statistics about what he referred to as a mental illness epidemic in the UK. In the past 10 years prescriptions for antidepressants have increased by 500%. Yes, 500% - from 9 million to 46 million. 46 million? The total population of this wee island is only 63 million. When he threw the fact that 32% of people between the ages of 16 and 24 have a psychiatric disorder into the mix, alarm bells started ringing. He further illuminated the issue in comparison to older people; surprisingly, only 10% of over 75s have a psychiatric disorder, with prevalence increasing as we tumble down the age scale.

The reasons for said epidemic will be many and complex, but my guess is that something is awry with our culture, or lack thereof. The materialistic 'Me, Me, Me', 'Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger' world we live in, where humanity, individualism and ethics are in short supply, is a sorry state of affairs and something's gotta give.

Mr Ruane has been championing mindfulness in Parliament, which I am thrilled about , but my experience working with Government makes me think that the issue needs to be brought to the fore with more force and a sense of urgency. Prevention and early intervention are optimal for individual wellbeing and would save the NHS a considerable sum, so it simply makes sense, but this is not where we're at.

Human life is ever so fragile and yet, in our society, wellbeing is seen as optional, as some mystical groovy new age thing. Quite peculiar, since the body each of us inhabits is the only vehicle we have to get around in; we don't take care of it and we frequently run on empty. We get angry when it gets rusty and bits start falling off or when it stalls in the middle of the motorway, but we patch it up and carry on until it finally gives out. And so it follows that when we are unwell, we want the quickest fix and have become a nation of impatient pill poppers; when it comes to mental health, dishing out 46 million antidepressants as a first line treatment, without adjunct therapies that address the cause and not the symptom, is a dangerous game.

Us human folk function best when energy and information flow without obstruction. If our mental wellbeing is not maintained from the get go, our minds can't regulate the flow and the fallout is all encompassing. And, guess what? Our mental wellbeing is not maintained by retail therapy, but by the most basic of human needs, to feel connected to other human beings and this starts with ourselves. Mindfulness is essential for wellbeing and happiness; it gives us the space to breath, to live life fully and to just be, exactly who we are.

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