The Future Minds of Psychology: How Overcoming Stigma Improves Access to Mental Health Care

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The UK is more concerned with mental health than ever before. Charities and government programmes, such as Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, are addressing the stigma surrounding mental well-being. This, in turn, has encouraged an open conversation in the media, education, and healthcare.

This article will explore the possibility that overcoming stigma has also encouraged the future minds of psychology, thus strengthening the NHS and improving nationwide access to mental health care.

Addressing the mental health crisis

The UK government has taken steps to address the mental health crisis. In 2008, parliament introduced the Improve Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, which offers talking therapies to adults with anxiety and depression. IAPT has been extremely successful and is predicted to reach a staggering 1.9 million patients by 2023 and 2024.

There are many charities around the UK that have taken steps to combat discrimination surrounding mental health. Mind, along with Rethink Mental Illness, created a campaign to encourage honest conversations regarding mental health problems. It offers digital advice on how to support someone who is struggling and how to start difficult conversations. Since the launch of Time For Change, public attitudes towards mental health improved by 8.3%  between 2008–15.

Overcoming stigma in the media

The media has played a vital role in overcoming the stigma surrounding mental health. In particular, documentary filmmaking is often utilised to reflect the changing perceptions regarding mental wellbeing. Our Silent Emergency (2021) follows Roman Kemp (radio presenter and television personality) as he processes the tragic suicide of his best friend. The director of the Suicidal Behavioural Research Laboratory, Rory O’Connor, praised the documentary for addressing the mental health crisis affecting men in the UK. Considering men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide, this couldn’t have come at a better time.

Moreover, fictional television shows often serve to critique public perceptions of mental health. Girls (2012–17) introduced viewers to the devastating effects of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). BoJack Horseman (2014–20) masterfully blends comedy and depression through the internal monologue of the protagonist. And My Mad Fat Diaries (2013–15) portrays the relationship between teenagers and eating disorders. From American sitcoms to British teen dramas and cartoon horses, the media is more concerned with mental health than ever before.

Encouraging the future minds of psychology

Through public organisations and the media, more and more people have been introduced to the mental health crisis and are exploring ways they can help. With this in mind, could the rising support and public awareness of mental health be encouraging more students to study a psychology degree at university?

According to Google Trends data, the average number of monthly searches for psychology degrees was 69,540 as of October 2017. The average then surged to 99,020 monthly searches as of September 2021. This data depicts a rising interest in psychology degrees and suggests more students are choosing to embark on the course at university.

But why could this be?

There are endless benefits to studying psychology, including harnessing the skills to improve the lives of countless people. According to an undergraduate student at Heriot-Watt University, psychology enables students to make patients “understand that it’s ok sometimes to feel the way they are feeling. Just talk it through.”

Furthermore, as more and more students graduate with psychology degrees, the professional field has evolved. In fact, the average number of working psychologists in the UK has increased by 24% since 2014. To discover how this surge has affected the workforce, we contacted Samantha Byram, a qualified well-being practitioner with a first-class BA in Psychology:

“Psychology is continuously evolving to fit the current workforce. There are so many more opportunities to become a psychologist since I graduated in 2017. Now, we’re able to see patients with less severe symptoms, treating mental health at earlier stages of development with low intensity cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This allows me to equip more people with the skills to overcome depression and anxiety.”

Will the surge in psychology graduates solve the mental health crisis?

As the interest in psychology degrees grows and the professional field continues to evolve, the UK stands a better chance of tackling the current mental health crisis. Since the dawn of COVID-19, treatments for under 18s surged by 20% in 2020 compared to 2019, and the NHS is struggling to keep up with the growing demand for therapies. At present, there are 8 million people who cannot get access to mental health services and almost 50% of adults in England have suffered from mental health issues since the pandemic. However, with the increasing interest in psychology, it is likely that more students will graduate, and the NHS will continue to evolve. As a result, more people will be given access to life-changing mental health services.

The relationship between the UK and mental health is constantly evolving. Government programmes and public campaigns have encouraged an open discussion throughout the nation. This, along with wide coverage in the media, has begun to combat the stigma surrounding mental health. In turn, interest in psychology degrees has surged, and the professional field continues to grow. Therefore, the future minds of psychology are the shining hope for solving the growing mental health crisis in the UK.

Sources

https://www.england.nhs.uk/mental-health/adults/iapt/

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/mental-health-stigma/tips-talking

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/sites/default/files/TTC_Phase_2_Legacy_Evaluation.pdf

https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/research/the-right-track-participation-and-progression-in-psychology-career-paths

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/apr/09/extent-of-mental-health-crisis-in-england-at-terrifying-level

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/aug/29/strain-on-mental-health-care-leaves-8m-people-without-help-say-nhs-leaders

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-every-mind-matters-campaign-to-improve-peoples-mental-health https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/sites/default/files/TTC_Phase_2_Legacy_Evaluation.pdf

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