March 14, 2018
The Problem with Mental Health…and a Solution!
Mental health is a loaded term that conjures up thoughts and feelings for all of us. But really it refers to something that we all have, just like we all have physical health. When we are in good mental health, most of us don’t even think about our mental health. But when we are in poor mental health, it becomes difficult to do much else.
Did you know that one in four people in the UK will have a mental health issue each year? That’s over 16 million people! And one in six people in England will experience a common mental health problem this week. That’s about 9 million people in England this week alone! Worldwide there are 450 million currently suffering from a mental disorder. But two thirds of those people never seek help from a health professional.
Many who struggle with mental health issues suffer in silence due to stigma or shame, worried about being labeled. These are logical concerns since The Mental Health Foundation reports:
“Nearly nine out of ten people with mental health problems say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives.”
“Many people’s problems are made worse by the stigma and discrimination they experience -from society, but also from families, friends and employers.”
Others struggling with mental health issues seek solutions within the existing mental health systems. The problem is that the mental health systems aren’t working. The demand far outweighs the supply. Those who are able to access care are given diagnoses and then treated with one size fits all approaches that focus on symptom management rather than getting to the root of the problem. People working in mental health have limited time and resources and are becoming burnt out at twice the rate of those in other industries.
As a psychotherapist, I have been part of the mental health systems. I have watched as people have been demoralised and even traumatised by attempting to get help for their mental health issues. I have stood by as their loved ones watch helplessly. And I have been one of the too many burnt out mental health workers.
My experience and the desire to do better are what brought me to Zinc, a social impact incubator with the mission of improving the mental and emotional health of women and girls in the developed world. It’s here that I met my team. Regina is an international young woman with a business background and experience in the UN, who has spent much of her life watching her mother go in and out of mental health institutions, through treatment after treatment that never kept her mother well for long. Kevin is a seasoned techie and serial entrepreneur who struggled to get his daughter help that actually helped when she was experiencing depression. Regina and Kevin’s loved ones’ situations are not unique. According to the WHO, 41% of adults in the UK don’t receive the treatment that they need. That’s around 5 million people in the UK for whom current treatment doesn’t work.
Believing that we could do better, my co-founders and I came to Zinc determined to find something that does work. And we did!
We stumbled upon a talk therapy called Open Dialogue, which has been successfully used to treat mental health issues across the spectrum for the last thirty years. Developed in a hospital in a remote part of Northern Finland, it is five times more effective than the NHS’s mental health services with 1/10th of the relapse rate. It uses people’s own existing social support networks, such as family and friends, to help in providing personalised treatment to the person experiencing the mental health issue.
Open Dialogue sees people as more than just their diagnoses, it sees them as integrated, whole, social beings. It recognises that people all have relationships and experiences that impact their mental health. It allows people to determine who participates in their treatment and where it takes place. It invites all of the participants to have a voice in the decision making processes about the course of treatment. It brings the humanity back to treating people’s mental health. The added magic is that it gives the distressed person’s support network the skills to talk about difficult things, which enables them to recognise warning signs and be part of earlier intervention in the future. This reduces the incidence of relapse and future descent into mental health crisis that would require return to the mental health system. The responses of beneficiaries, their loved ones, and therapists to Open Dialogue, like the results, have been overwhelmingly positive.
The success of open Dialogue has not gone unnoticed and it has been implemented in settings around the world with varying degrees of success. At the moment, the NHS has put millions into launching a feasibility study of the process that could lead to the biggest randomised control trial of a new method in the UK. Unfortunately, Open Dialogue is difficult to implement in larger mental health systems and the NHS is already facing some of these very real challenges.
As an agile startup that is not bound to the bureaucracy of the existing mental health systems, we have the ability to implement Open Dialogue as it was designed. We have begun providing the service with overwhelmingly positive responses and people coming back for more. Here’s what some clients said:
“An amazing way to have honest conversations with friends, family or coworkers. Some have been difficult, some surprising, but they’ve always been worthwhile. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to bring about a positive change.”
“It was an incredible experience.”
Transforming Mental Health Care
With the knowledge that one in three female students will suffer from a mental health issue during their time at university, we have launched a pilot to begin providing Open Dialogue to students and others. This will allow us to provide much needed mental health support, while enabling us to gather the data needed to roll out the digital products that will make Open Dialogue available more widely.
We will ultimately provide a digital solution using Natural Language Processing which will be available anytime anywhere to facilitate the process for any group of people with any issue that arises.
We want a world where people can receive the support they need, the way they want it, wherever they choose. If this is the world you want too, then we would love to hear from you!
I can be reached at email@example.com.