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Mental Health awareness day - what does ‘parity of esteem’ mean?

If you’ve been following social media, the news, or any radio broadcasts this week, the chances are you will have heard Mental Health Awareness day was on the 10th October. This year’s theme from the World Health Organisation was around raising awareness to make mental health and wellbeing a global priority for all; for mental health to be held in ‘parity of esteem’ with physical health

But what does ‘Parity of esteem’ actually mean?

Parity of esteem refers to the value that we give to looking after our mental health. For example, if you are a keen runner, and you’re preparing for an event when you start experiencing knee pain, the chances are you are going to go and see a Physiotherapist. You wouldn’t want to miss your race, right? But if each morning that you wake up you notice you feel more tired at the beginning of the day than then end, that you don’t get as much enjoyment from life, and that you’ve stopted doing things you used to enjoy and perhaps avoiding social events, at the moment you are statistically less likely to understand this as a potential mental health challenge, and seek early support accordingly.

The difference between these two happens because:

Mental health awareness day - parity of esteem

1) We have a better understanding and language to describe our physical health than our mental health

2) It’s more socially acceptable (at the moment) to take time from school or work to go to a Doctor’s or Physio appointment, than it is to attend a therapy appointment

3) We seem to attribute mental health challenges with a stigma around ‘weakness’; we feel we ‘should’ be able to ‘sort ourselves out’ or ‘shake it off’ but why do we think this about our mental health, when as a runner you wouldn’t believe that your knee pain would get better just on its own, and i doubt that you believe you could treat yourself just as well as any physio could.

So what do we need to do to change?

1) We need to get better education and understanding around mental health into our schools and conversations from an early age. The more conversations we have, the less room there is for it to be seen as ‘different’

2) We need to stop seeing our physical health as disconnected from our mental health, and treating them both as though they exist in isolation: If you injure your back and experience prolonged pain, it’s quite likely that you’re going to feel mentally pretty rubbish. If you don’t feel well mentally, it’s quite likely that you aren’t going to take care of yourself as well, eat, exercise, or sleep well. That’s going to affect your physical health

So what one thing can i do?

We need to start asking. How are you? And not in the middle of a supermarket or high street. We need to really listen for the answer, and if the answer is that they’ve been feeling physically unwell, then we need to make it ok to ask- How has that made you feel? It’s part of our passion and mission at In-mind: that one day, we will hear young people hold these kinds of conversations, so that people feel more encouraged to get support for and value their physical and mental health in equal measure.

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