Mental wellbeing should be tackled before it leads to a need for crisis care

Depressed - Head In Hands

Many people living with worsening mental health are invisible, but we can help them by reaching out

Barely a week goes by without another sign that mental health services are strained to breaking point as people turn to them in greater numbers and as beds and staff are cut.

This is serious stuff. Providing a safe and appropriate environment for people should be at the core of care. However, while the focus on crisis care is vital, so too are the less visible and less extreme aspects of facing life with mental health difficulties.

As well as the Care Quality Commission report last week ringing alarm bells over record numbers of patients detained for mental health treatment, another report, from the University of Bristol, explored the links between debt, ageing and mental wellbeing. It concluded that within the UK's older population in particular, those finding it "very difficult to get by financially" were eight times more likely to report reduced mental wellbeing compared with those who were comfortably off. The report's authors called the results "staggering" because it clearly demonstrated how the precursors to mental health deterioration are often hidden.

Not everyone turns up at an A&E in crisis, and not everyone with moderately poor mental health is directly in touch with services of any kind. This matters because everywhere around us there are people struggling with financial and other stresses. The older population are also, on average, much more likely to feel lonely and isolated – both triggers for poor mental wellbeing.

The latest initiative from the anti-stigma campaign Time To Change is Time to Talk Day, which takes place on Thursday. It pinpoints how so much of the anguish that people are trying to deal with is behind closed doors, with many people afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.

Many of those living with mental health difficulties, be it for the first time in response to something such as debt or because of longstanding conditions, say that feeling free to talk can make an enormous difference day to day. They say, too, that if others reach out and pay attention through even the smallest of gestures, it can ease the burden. We may not all be able to directly influence how crisis or other care is provided, but that doesn't mean we can't do something.

As one person involved in the Time to Talk Day puts it: "If you know someone who is struggling, a kind word or a hug can go a long way."

Powered by article was written by Mary O'Hara, for The Guardian on Tuesday 4th February 2014 14.02 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010