The breaking sports news on Monday morning was that that the England cricketer Jonathan Trott was immediately leaving the Ashes Tour in Australia due to a stress-related illness.
Trott is one of a growing number of notable sportsmen and women who have been open about experiencing mental health problems, including Marcus Trescothick, who later spoke movingly of his depression, Ian Thorpe, Clarke Carlisle, Dame Kelly Holmes and Gemma Spofforth.
Mental ill health can affect anyone regardless of their job, gender, background or social standing. It affects one in four adults and one in ten children every year, most commonly as depression or anxiety.
The recent Channel 4 series Bedlam and BBC Three’s Don’t Call Me Crazy demonstrated to wide audiences that mental health problems can affect absolutely anyone and that the impact mental illness can have on our lives varies enormously from person to person. But a consistent message from people living with mental illness is the devastating impact of stigma and discrimination. They can stop people from talking with family, friends and colleagues about their mental health and prevent people from seeking help from their doctor or their employer when they become unwell. Some three-quarters of people with depression and anxiety get no treatment at all and many more do not seek help until they reach a crisis. In the meantime, many lose their jobs and experience difficulties in their relationships – making it even harder to recover.
Time to Change, a joint initiative by Mind and Rethink Mental illness, has been working to end stigma around mental health since 2007. A recent study of the impact of Time to Change so far has found that public attitudes towards people with mental health problems have improved and that people with mental health conditions are experiencing less discrimination in their everyday lives. But this is a task that will take a generation and it needs to be sustained for some time.
Last year, for the first time ever, four members of parliament spoke openly about their experiences of mental ill health. The same year saw legislation to banish the last vestiges of outright discrimination against people with a mental illness, for example in relation to jury service.
We are making real progress towards a future in which a person who experiences mental ill health can speak openly about it, can get help they need in a timely manner, and will be treated with the same respect at work, at school and indeed in the media as someone experiencing a physical illness. The media response to Jonathan Trott leaving an Ashes tour has been far more sympathetic and understanding than that given to Marcus Trescothick seven years ago. If we can just accept that mental ill health is a normal part of life and ensure that those who experience it get the right support to help them to recover, we will truly build a better society for everyone.