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Mental Health Awareness Week

During Mental Health Awareness Week, Emma Jones discusses the importance of strong relationships

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Emma Jones specialises in human rights claims relating to the treatment and care individuals receive in hospitals, schools and in social care settings, false imprisonment and assault claims, actions against the police and public law challenges.
The theme of this year’s mental health awareness week is relationships.  When I was Head of Legal at Mind relationships was always topical and something I spoke with many individuals about when I was on the “help line”.

For many individuals with mental health problems being heard or understood is often a problem, which is why it is often difficult to discuss mental health issues when embarking on a new relationship, and by that I mean any type of new relationship; a friendship, romance, work relationship.  Often people who have no experience with mental health problems don’t understand, or worse, don’t want to understand because it is just easier to pretend things like that don’t exist.

A few years ago, Mind and Rethink carried out a survey in which 77% of individuals with mental health problems stated they actively told partners about their mental health and only 5% of those people broke up with them when they heard about their condition.  For me, that is 5% too many.  Why should the fact that someone has mental health problems be a reason to dump them? 

In the same survey, 50% of partners dating someone with a mental health problem said it wasn’t as daunting as they thought it would be!!  Why assume it would be daunting?  It seems to me that many of us still view mental health through the lens of homicide and madness when that simply is not the case.  I act for many individuals who have mental health problems in cases of abuse, mistreatment, lack of treatment and general poor care of physical health because of their mental health problems. 

If professionals are treating individuals with mental health problems less fairly than those without mental health problems it is no wonder individuals with mental health problems are hesitant about talking about the issues at the start of a new relationship.  Professionals need to ensure there is parity for all individuals to prevent unfairness and stigma.  Otherwise, this will leave already vulnerable individuals opens to various forms of abuse or neglect; being treated as a second class citizen.

When I started my training contract at Scott-Moncrieff working on mental health review tribunal cases I attended a number of conferences and met some amazing mental health advocates.  One man talked about being able to tell how well a society functioned by looking at the way it treated people with mental health problems.  It is good that the focus of mental health awareness week is on relationships, but it does makes me wonder how far along we are if we have to remind people that individuals with mental health problems are able to have relationships. Maybe I am expecting too much, or too much too quickly, but working in the area that I do, I see far too many cases that involve individuals with mental health problems that arise because of discrimination or other people making assumptions.

To me it is simple, put more funding into mental health services; just make sure individuals get the treatment they need to be well.  I would like to see money going into front line services so that individuals can access treatment they need as soon as it is needed.  This helps individuals to stay well, which helps individuals feel able to talk about themselves when they start new relationships, which helps build good, strong relationships, which can only be a positive thing.

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