10 October marks World Mental Health Day with this year’s theme ‘Depression: A Global Crisis’.

The initiative started 20 years ago and each year World Mental Health Day aims to raise public awareness of a specific topic as well as promote open discussion of mental disorders, and investments in prevention, promotion and treatment services.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression affects more than 350m people of all ages, in all communities, and is a significant contributor to the global burden of disease. It is important that people recognise depression and take the illness seriously, and World Mental Health Day helps to highlight the issues.

Speaking on World Mental Health Day 2012 and commenting on what the future may hold, Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive at the Mental Health Foundation, said:

“We have certainly come a long way in the last twenty years, both in terms of the scientific advances that have heralded new treatment options, and also in shifting public opinion that has meant that open discussion of mental health is no longer quite the taboo it used to be. Just in the last few months we have seen members of Parliament stand up in the House of Commons and discuss, openly and frankly, their own experiences of mental illness, to a broadly sympathetic and understanding reception from the media. But there is more work still to do, and the next twenty years will bring with them new and unprecedented demands on our shrinking mental health services.

“Perhaps the main challenge in the next twenty years will be how we deal with the increase in our country’s population and the increase in life expectancy that will partly underpin this. This will come at a time where, due to evermore pressing economic and environmental concerns, mental health may be pushed down the priority list for any future government. Despite this, we need to keep pushing the message that good mental health is absolutely fundamental to a healthy, happy and productive society and that, more importantly, any neglect in this area could be hugely costly both socially and economically.”

He goes onto say:

“It is important to remain optimistic. Scientific advances will continue to inform our understanding of the brain and of psychological and social causes of mental illness. New, more effective treatment options will be researched and developed. This will be especially welcome for conditions like dementia which, in under ten years’ time will be affecting one million people in the UK.

“With increased scientific understanding will come more focused investment in research, mental health promotion and treatment. It is inevitable that, as spending cuts continue; more emphasis will have to be on ‘value-for-money’ solutions, such as group psychotherapy and online cognitive behavioural therapy tools, but as time goes on these should become more nuanced and more effective.”

Dr Andrew McCulloch concludes:

“Above all I hope that we will see a population better equipped to look after its own mental health. We know that half of adult mental health problems are first identifiable in childhood so more investment in children and young people’s health is vital – particularly now that we have more evidence than ever about the link between the economic crisis and the rise of mental illness.

“Whatever the next twenty years may bring, I can be sure that the Mental Health Foundation will continue its fight to reduce the suffering caused by mental ill health and to help everyone lead mentally healthier lives.”

According to new research by Aviva released on Monday (8 October) 28% of UK employees believe there is less stigma associated with mental health issues in the workplace than a year ago.

However, while the report ‘Health of the Workplace 2012’ suggests employees are generally feeling less stigma in the workplace, 35% of respondents still feel that mental health remains a taboo subject, and 56% think that physical illness will always carry less stigma than mental health.

The annual study is based upon 1,000 UK employers and 1,000 employees views, and 28% believe that celebrities talking openly about their mental health problems has helped to create awareness and understanding, while 36% of employees surveyed, say that TV and press campaigns, such as Mind’s ‘Time to Change’ campaign have helped remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

From the research, it is suggested that employers are now much more aware of the extent to which their workforce is affected by mental health problems, as the number one health initiative that employers would like to implement is more support for employees with mental health issues (34%).

Dr Doug Wright, Medical Director for Aviva, UK Health, says:

“It’s good to see that employees are beginning to feel less stigma at work concerning mental health issues, and that many employers have more understanding and want to offer support. As very few employees say they would confide in their employer about a mental health condition, it’s important that managers are able to spot the signs of problems and have the right support in place.

“Mental health is high on the agenda for both employees and employers in the UK. Employers have a vital role in helping to support those who are suffering from depression, anxiety or other psychiatric conditions. There are many companies who offer no support at all to such employees, but equally we are seeing more and more companies starting to provide support and running training and awareness campaigns.”