Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week and this year the BPC has decided to start a conversation about the pressures of modern living. Our practitioners have seen a rise in levels of emotional distress year on year and we believe that, although the reasons will be many and are complex, there needs to be a national conversation about this.
Each day this week, one of our practitioners will be offering their thoughts on the matter. We begin with the thoughts of Helen Morgan, our Chair:
'There is much to be celebrated about modern life. Many of the inequalities of the past are shifting as we form a more equal, more diverse society. Today we are far freer to make choices about partners and lifestyles than was the case for earlier generations, and developments in medical technology mean we are living longer. Yet research by organisations such as the New Economics Foundation reports that many members of our society are suffering mental distress and unhappiness as a result of the considerable pressures which exist within modern day living. Those of us who work directly with individuals in therapy and in the helping professions generally are witness to the increasing levels of emotional disturbance experienced by those we meet on a daily basis. Such distress includes excessive levels of anxiety and depression and layers of self-criticism and even self-hatred which may be expressed through eating disorders, self-harm, addictions and suicide.
Whilst in some ways we have become a more equal, fairer society, the gap between rich and poor widens year on year creating a sense of inadequacy and failure for many. The austerity agenda, rising house prices and the constant media demands to accumulate possessions has led to high rates of debt and a subsequent increase in anxiety about the future. The pressure on children to succeed means they are subject to constant examination at school instilling in them a sense of worry and robbing them of some of the freedoms to explore and play that should be an essential part of childhood. Meanwhile their parents struggle to ensure they are doing the ‘best’ for their children by getting them into the right school and providing endless after-school activities.
Thanks to rapid developments in technology the world has shrunk to the point where we are made aware of events across the globe instantly and 24/7. We now absorb more news information than ever before. This news is predominantly negative, disturbing and sometimes frightening. We get to witness directly the terrible things occurring to fellow human beings, to wildlife and to the climate and yet there seems little we can do. We have the information but relatively little power to do much about it.
There is a constant demand on us from all the product-marketing information which bombards us daily and from a celebrity culture fed by the media requiring us to dress in the right clothes and to own the latest gadgets. We must be wealthy, fit, happy and beautiful. The move away from family, community and locality places a considerable burden on the individual to achieve this idealised template of how he or she should be and look and even feel. Mental and emotional distress is rarely understood within a social context but are regarded as the responsibility of the person as an isolated entity. Self-help books, magazine articles and apps offer advice on how we might change behaviour, but if this doesn’t work it can exacerbate feelings of personal failure and inadequacy.
If isolation, speed, pressure and the need to succeed are causing high levels of mental distress for so many, then we need to take stock and question a society that demands so much emotionally of its citizens. For the troubled individual seeking help we need to respond in a way that provides the very opposite of the conditions that are causing the suffering in the first place. The response should be in the form of a slower method of enquiry rooted in relationship where there is time and space for exploration and acceptance, and where attention can be given to an inner world that has been neglected through the strains of living in a fast, competitive and highly pressurised external society.'