Last week, I saw a TV advertisement about mental health. In it, a man passes a male colleague who has been off work with mental health problems.
He wonders if he should ask his co-worker how he’s feeling but has visions of him reacting badly to the question. In the end, the colleague simply thanks him for asking and says he is OK. The conversation is surprisingly normal after being played out in many uncomfortable ways in the protagonist’s mind.
The aim of the advertisement is to encourage the public to talk about mental health. And we do need that encouragement.
As a nation, we often seem far more relaxed talking about gynaecological cancers or bowel disorders. But we haven’t always been open about those. It was nurses and health professionals, patient groups and charities that took us down this road by addressing these conditions. It’ll probably be those people who will have to break down the stigma about mental health too - and many of them are already doing just that.
That’s why it’s so good to see these issues being talked about openly on television and elsewhere in the media. It gives the nursing profession a head start if patients feel confident and equipped to discuss mental health openly.
In the past month, Ruby Wax has appeared on popular TV programmes about her theatre show Losing It. In this production, she talks about her own mental health problems, and encourages those with similar issues to come to the show and discuss them with each other. Putting mental health on the agenda with celebrity support is a huge cultural shift.
The ability to hold therapeutic conversations is a main strength of the nursing profession. Nurses have the capacity and the skills to listen to people. They know the power of talking to patients and nursing the mind as well as the body. However, this good work must be supported by friends, family and colleagues. Otherwise, the good work they do in practice will be undone.