Mental health is now a bigger issue for society than ever. The stresses of occupational life can be the starting point of a mental illness, typically a depression or anxiety disorder. We are under increasing pressure to compete and to achieve, and yet we are not really designed to endure a sustained psychological stress, so this constant strain may in time induce an episode of depression.
Think of it as if it were a case of “metal fatigue” in a plane fuselage. The metal will eventually snap. The depression will manifest itself through sadness, fear and even despair, which are all ingredients of resulting mental illness.
But because of the stigma attached to mental illness, the sufferer often lives in a perfect hell, without the outside world having any idea about it. They constantly feel a level of psychological pain that a healthy mind would reserve for the rare occasions in life when severe adversity raises its ugly and steely head. Its physical parallel would be a severe pain that has a life of its own and won’t go away.
It doesn't have to be this way – it is in our power to change it. World Mental Health Day should remind us, and our government, of the need to continue to fund this unglamorous area of healthcare, which deals with so much human suffering.
In particular, there is a need to develop and perfect new technologies for the treatment of common mental illnesses. We have to recognise that there have been precious few major advances in psychiatry in the last sixty years. The advent of magnetic interventions in depression is a very welcome exception, but we need more. We need the hi-tech means of fixing the mind when it goes wrong, as well as the common-sense, low-tech social measures to cure the ills of the excessive pressures at work that foster and promote mental illness in our daily life.
It might be ambitious, but it's certainly not beyond the limits of human ingenuity – if the technological advances that have taken place in other industries could be replicated in mental health, our minds would be in pretty good shape by now.