The Unspoken Illness - We Need to Talk About Mental Health

Each year on the 10th October organisations and charities from around the globe take part in World Mental Health Day to raise awareness of mental health issues.

WoW Petition will be joining the discussion. You can follow us on twitter @WOWpetition and @WOWpetitionchat and on facebook

We urge you to sign
to demand that no one with a mental illness should suffer hardship and distress as a result of welfare reforms. 

WoW Petition calls for an independent, committee-based inquiry into welfare reform including "universal mental health treatments." What does this mean? The answer is simple. We believe that no one experiencing a mental health condition, illness or mental distress should be denied access to the support, care and treatment that they deserve and need.

Mental health problems are widespread in the UK:

  • Mental illness accounts for half of all illness in the under 65s. 
  • According to the World Health Organisation, one in four of us will have a mental illness at some point in our lifetime.
  • One in six people are currently affected by a mental illness.
  • 6,000,000 people have depression or crippling anxiety conditions.
  • 700,000 children have problem behaviours, anxiety or depression.
  • One third of all families include someone who is currently mentally ill.

The human impact of mental illness :

  • Suicide is the most common cause of death in men up to the age of 35.
  • Around 4,400 people end their own lives in England each year. That's one death every two hours. At least 10 times that number attempt suicide. Around 90% of suicide victims suffer from a psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
  • Mental illness has the same effect on life-expectancy as smoking, and more than obesity.
  • Mental illness is generally more debilitating than most chronic physical conditions. On average, a person with depression is at least 50% more disabled than someone with angina, arthritis, asthma or diabetes. 
  • Mental pain is as real as physical pain, and it is often more severe. 
  • The UK has one of the highest rates of self harm in Europe at 400 per 100,000 population. 
  • People with serious mental illnesses die on average 20 years earlier than the rest of the population.

Neglecting mental health blights millions of lives, and yet, despite the huge cost to the economy and our society, three-quarters of people with common mental heath conditions are not receiving any treatment, therapy or support

Lack of funding and cuts:

For the first time in a decade there has been a cut in the total spending on mental health with a reduction of £150 million, including cuts in crisis services and out-reach programmes. This at a time of austerity when cuts to the welfare system further compound mental health problems. In many parts of the country, crisis care teams are under-resourced, understaffed and overstretched.

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer. "The current economic climate, unemployment and benefits cuts are likely to be having an impact, but we know too that people in a mental health crisis aren't always getting the help and support they need from the services there to support them."

"Good services can make a huge difference to whether someone recovers from a mental health crisis, yet we often hear from people who have been turned away because they 'aren't suicidal enough' or who have been made to wait for hours to be assessed and offered help."

"When people in crisis don't get the help they need, the consequences can be catastrophic."

  • In 2012 the number of suicides among mental health patients rose from 1,175 to 1,333.
  • Suicides are three times higher among unemployed people.

WoW Petition calls for an Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering "excess claimant deaths".

We don't know how many people with mental illness have died after being judged fit-to-work following a work capability assessment or were appealing a fit-to-work decision because the Department of Work and Pensions say that they don't hold this information. As stories of suicides and deaths linked to the assessment appear in the media we can be sure that people have died as a consequence. The tick-box assessment is completely inadequate in recognising the many difficulties and limitations endured by mentally ill people. The stress and fear surrounding the assessment can be unbearable for many, making symptoms much worse. Medical evidence is disregarded and failure to collect supportive documentation at the start of the process means that people with learning disabilities, autism and psychotic illness especially, are discriminated against by the system. The High Court has ruled that the assessment for employment and support allowance breaches equalities laws but the government are appealing this judgement.

WoW Petition calls for an immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment as voted for by the BMA & RCN.

Mental health services are not regarded as a priority. The government have given local NHS service commissioners £400 million to complete the roll out of improving access to psychological therapies. By 2014 the programme should have been treating 900,000 people suffering with anxiety and depression but the budgets have not always been used for their intended purpose. 50% of these people receiving treatment would be expected to recover. Mental illness can make existing physical illness worse and it can cause physical symptoms. Physical healthcare caused by mental illness costs the NHS at least £10 billion. Not only does therapy help recovery and improves quality of life but economically it would be cost-effective to invest more on psychological therapies now saving on costs for other health services later.

  • Despite the widespread prevalence of mental illness within the UK, mental health services only receive 13% of NHS health expenditure.

Anxiety conditions such as social phobia, agoraphobia, PTSD, OCD, panic disorder and generalised anxiety account for half of mental illness. They can be debilitating and disabling and if not treated they frequently become lifelong. Recovery is made much more difficult the longer these conditions are left to persist untreated. There is no right to therapies within the NHS which NICE recommend as an effictive form of treatment for such conditions.

People are often afraid to admit they have a problem due to the stigma attached with having a mental illness and do not seek help when symptoms first appear. They need to get help as soon as possible to prevent their symptoms from escalating to crisis point but when they go to see their GP they may not get the referral to the local mental health services that they require.

GPs themselves are often not adequately trained in mental illness and the patient comes away with nothing more than a prescription. There can be very long waiting times for psychological and talking therapies and counselling and sometimes no local services to help at all.

Mind Charity revealed that one in five people had been waiting over a year to receive treatment and one in ten over two years. They say:

"Waiting times can have a devastating impact on a person's life. They can exacerbate mental illness and cause relationships to break down, jobs to be lost, people to be isolated and, in extreme cases, lead to suicide attempts. But far too many people are still waiting far too long to receive treatment."


  • Mental illness accounts for nearly half of all people on sickness benefits.
  • People with severe mental health problems have a lower employment rate than any other disabled group and yet they are more likely to want to work. 90% say they'd like to have employment compared to people with 52% of disabled people generally. 
  • However, only 21% of people with a disabling mental health condition are in paid employment compared with 47% of all people with other disabilities. This is even less for people with a severe mental illness. Just 9% are working full time and 19% part-time.
  •  70% of those with a common mental disorder who are unemployed and seeking work and have been unemployed for over a year or more are unlikely to return to work.

People with mental illness judged unfit to work in the short to medium term have not been excluded from the Work Programme. The scheme is mandatory and failure to participate can lead to mentally ill people being stripped of their benefits.

  • 93% of disabled people put onto the Work Programme are not finding long-term work. Just 6.8% of new ESA claimants with a general range of disabilities referred to the scheme in the latest three months have found employment. 

The public are not so sympathetic. 75% said people who were ‘mentally disabled’ (judged fit) should be made to work unpaid for their benefits.

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer. “Pressuring people into working, under the threat of losing their benefits, often serves to exacerbate their mental health problems, pushing them even further from the job market. Currently there’s still too little specialised support available and too much focus on sanctions and conditionality. People with mental health problems face significant barriers to finding and staying in work, such as stigma from employers, and often dealing with an invisible and fluctuating condition. The Government should be ensuring they provide tailored support to help people find appropriate employment.”

WoW Petition is opposed to workfare for people claiming social security benefits. WoW Petition calls for "an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits".

Stigma and discrimination:

  • Fewer than 4 in 10 employers say that they would consider employing someone with a history of mental illness compared with 6 out of 10 who would consider giving work to someone with a physical disability.

Public attitudes towards mentally ill people have hardened.

  • More than half of the UK public said if they were employers they would not offer people with a history of depression a job, even if they were the best candidate. 

However, we probably each already know and work with someone suffering from a mental health problem, only because of stigma and discrimination, we don't know that they have an illness.

The media have shaped our attitudes towards mental illness and particularly our misinformed view that 'mental patients' are prone to violence. The stark reality is that sufferers are significantly more likely to harm themselves than other people and be the victims of crime and abuse.

Supermarkets Asda and Tesco recently had to remove offensive "mental patient" fancy dress costumes from their stores after a public outcry.

People with mental health problems are often too afraid to seek help or even to say they are unwell because of fear of being harshly judged and misunderstood. Sensational headlines can only make people more fearful of opening up, less likely to talk about their concerns and get the support they need. Stigma blights lives.

  • Nearly nine out of ten people (87%) with mental health problems say that have been affected by stigma and discrimination.

Stigma can affect all aspects of daily life. Work, education, going shopping and leisure activities, friendships, socialising, talking to other people, and getting support. People feel that they get a negative reaction and are blamed for their illness. That they will be seen as weak if they can't 'pull up their socks' or 'pull themselves together'. Asking a person with depression to 'cheer up' is like asking someone with a heart condition to make themselves better.

Stigma creates isolation and loneliness as people withdraw from social contact, which lowers their self-esteem and confidence. Two thirds of people with mental health problems live alone, four times more than the general population. Few people send get well messages as they do when someone is ill with a physical condition. The general message is that if you have a mental illness you suffer in secret, hidden away from the world and you don't talk about it. When someone asks how you are, few would venture to say that they're feeling down or anxious or depressed.

It's time that people with mental health issues were treated fairly. People with mental health problems can and do recover to lead rewarding and fulfilling lives. Not everybody can and will be cured, but equality and accessibility to treatment and support to enjoy life's potential should be the same experience for everybody.

Attitudes to mental health need to change.

Please support our campaign by signing WoW Petition


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