Health: Tackling mental illness

Statisically one in four people will suffer from a mental health issue
Statisically one in four people will suffer from a mental health issue

With the explosion of social media in recent years and the penchant of many to detail every waking moment of their lives online, you could be forgiven for believing the mental health taboo was on the wane.

With the explosion of social media in recent years and the penchant of many to detail every waking moment of their lives online, you could be forgiven for believing the mental health taboo was on the wane.

In a recent survey by the Time to Change campaign 30 per cent of people across Britain said they would find it difficult to admit publicly to having a mental illness.

The survey also found that admitting to a mental health condition was deemed harder than confessing to having a drink problem or going bankrupt.

More shockingly the survey also found that as well as the taboo surrounding the subject there was also a great deal of stigma attached to someone who has openly admitted, discussed or been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

The research found that people are four times more likely to break off a romantic relationship if their partner is diagnosed with severe depression than if they develop a physical disability.

For one Northern Ireland mental health worker, these statistics are not surprising. In fact, Jimmy Smyth of the Health & Wellbeing Co says mental health issues are one of the most badly dealt with illnesses of our time.

He said: “One in four people will develop a moderate to severe mental illness in their lifetime. It is fair to say that few, if any, families will escape the blight of mental illness.

“Mental illness affects not only the individual suffering from the mental illness but also family members’ lives can be greatly disrupted as well. It destroys relationships, security, careers and family stability.

“Mental health problems do not discriminate against anyone. No matter what age you are, mental illness can come knocking on your door - from childhood into old age.

“Prevention, early diagnosis and treatment and good mental health practices are vitally important to looking after our mental health.

“Mental illness can be the result of biological, genetic, personality and environmental factors.

“One of these factors could be the main reason for the psychiatric illness or the illness could be a combination of these factors.

“Everyone of us, no matter what age, can be affected by these factors, however, it is fair to say that the older you get the more likely it is that environmental factors are responsible as it is reasonable to assume the other factors would have kicked in at an earlier stage of life.”

Jimmy added that women are more likely to be treated for mental health problems than men and more shockingly that 20 per cent of children have a mental health issue in any given year with 10 per cent having a mental health problem at any one time.

With over 40 years’ experience working in the mental health field with a background in psychiatric nursing, social work Jimmy is now an author, life coach and counsellor.

On a daily basis he encounters a range of people who have either fallen through the cracks of traditional healthcare or who, are only just coming to terms with the fact they may have been suffering a mental health issue.

According to Jimmy, in many cases people don’t recognise that they have a mental health problem.

“Thousands of people who suffer from serious mental illness go untreated for most of their lives. Mainly because they deny having a mental illness and refuse to engage with their GP or mental health professionals,” said Jimmy.

He added: “Many people suffering from moderate to severe mental illness, have no insight into their illness and therefore rarely accept that they are mentall ill.

‘‘Like all illnesses there are differing levels of mental illness.

“Mental health problems range from stress and anxiety right through to severe depression, manic states and various forms of schizophrenia. Like physical illnesses, the sooner a mental illness is diagnosed and treated the better for the patient and their family.”

For Jimmy the key to combatting mental health problems is removing the stigma and encouraging people to talk about it.

As well as that he says getting the right diagnosis at the right time is essential for people.

“A lot more should be done to make it possible to diagnose and treat mental illness at a very early stage.

“Psychiatrists are still treating mental illness mainly with physical treatments, like medication - even though mindfulness, counselling and coaching are other talking therapies are as successful in treating mental illness as traditional medical treatments.”

Jimmy, alongside business partners Mary-Jane Burns and Liz Elliott, offer a range of complementary therapies, counselling and coaching solutions to many physical and mental illnesses.

By combining a range of treatments Jimmy believes they provide people with a more holistic approach, enabling them to get to the root of a problem that can be overlooked in traditional medicine.

The Health & Wellbeing Company will be attending the forthcoming TONIC Health & Wellness Festival which takes place at T-13 in Belfast on Sunday November 8.

For more information about The Health & Wellbeing Company log onto or follow on Twitter @LessWorkStress

Tickets for the TONIC Health & Wellness Festival are £5 per person (£3 concession & £12 Family ticket – two adults and two children kids) and available from Ticketmaster outlets nationwide, by calling 0844 277 44 55 or from