Raise a cup of tea to mark World Mental Health Day

To mark World Mental Health Day, Mark Drinkwater catches up with two campaigns run by Mind and Rethink and hails the benefits of a cup of tea

This Saturday is World Mental Health Day. The annual celebration was started by the World Federation for Mental Health in 1992 with the aim of educating the public about mental health issues. Millions of people across the world celebrate the day each year, raising awareness and funds for mental health causes.

Perhaps the only downside of the day, for those of us involved in mental health provision, is that with so many projects holding events, it can be an almighty effort trying to get to participate in all the things you would like to.

This year, two national mental health campaigns taking place on World Mental Health Day have caught my attention. The Time to Change initiative, run by mental health charities Mind and Rethink, is touring the country this month and will be stopping off at Regents Park in London on the weekend.

End discrimination

The roadshow features an interactive stand where visitors can watch videos, have their photograph taken and be added to a digital pledge to show their support for ending the discrimination and stigma faced by those with mental health problems.

I visited their pitch when they stopped at a south London shopping precinct and was impressed by the public opportunity for people with mental health problems, and those who have not been affected, to talk about mental health.

The other campaign that caught my eye was the Mental Health Foundation’s launch of its Tea and Talk fund-raising event, which is being held a day early, on Friday 9 October, because the celebratory date inconveniently falls on a weekend this year.

Valuing the cuppa

There are some who are sceptical of such events; dismissing them as frivolous or patronising to suggest that sitting down with a tea can improve the lives of people in mental distress. But I’ve always valued the great British cuppa’s ability to stimulate a good old natter. And, as a young lad, I remember being struck by how calming a cup of tea seemed to be in consoling those in distress. It’s a useful resource, offered in times of crisis and shock, as well as in celebration.

The therapeutic associations of a cup of tea have long been known; we’re all familiar with “tea and sympathy”, a phrase that originated from the title of the 1956 film where a housemaster’s wife comforts a sensitive schoolboy. But since the 1950s, we’ve undoubtedly become more detached from those around us. Despite our increasing material wealth, not a month seems to go by without a research study pointing to our declining happiness compared with bygone eras.

These days, in the workplace everyone feels “time poor”, with not enough hours in the day. The time constraints on GPs mean many are more inclined to issue a prescription than explore a problem or make a referral for a talking therapy. Social care staff too feel they spend too much of their time behind a computer or filling in forms, rather than with the people they are there to support.

Cheering properties

So, thanks to the Mental Health Foundation’s campaign we have an excuse to rediscover the cheering properties of a collective brew.

Perhaps it’s time to reflect on the words of the 19th-century prime minister, William Gladstone, who said: “If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you.”

I think it’s time to put the kettle on.

This article is published in the 8 October 2009 edition of Community Care under the headline “A good cuppa is the right tonic for people in mental distress”

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