Kathryn James, ETF Associate
Prince Harry’s frank and honest interview about his own mental health has been praised widely, and rightly so. His openness can do much to break down the stigma about mental health problems for all, but especially for men.
At any one time it is believed that one in five women and one in eight men are diagnosed with a common mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder. It is difficult to know if this is a true reflection of what is really happening, because the numbers only tell us about the number of mental health issues that are reported or admitted to. This is believed to be especially true for men and their mental health. Perhaps most worrying of all, is that while women and girls may have higher rates of depression and therefore receive help and support, rates of suicide are much higher in men. Four in five suicides are by men, with suicide being the biggest cause of death in men under 35 years old. Men are also more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping strategy.
It is hard to know why this is, but it is believed that culturally men perceive that talking about their feelings is a sign of weakness. Talking about mental health problems brings fear of stigma, but for men and boys also the double whammy of also appearing to be weak and unmanly. That’s why Prince Harry’s openness is so important and will hopefully do much to challenge those damaging misconceptions.
It is also why the work the Education and Training Foundation is doing on mental health and apprenticeships is also important and particularly notable is the excellent work that is covered in the case study of the CITB. In such a male-dominated industry supporting apprentices with mental health problems and tackling the stigma attached to mental health with such openness is not only a humane thing to do but also makes good business sense. Some 12% of working days are lost to recorded mental ill-health.
Prince Harry’s interview also shows us that mental health problems happen to anyone even those with wealth and privilege. In the education and training sector we also need to be mindful that socio-economic status and background have a profound effect on mental health and wellbeing. Being on a low income, coming from a poorer background, financial difficulties and debt are all risk factors for poor mental health. The education and training sector has always been the place that enables people to get on in life regardless of their situation, to learn skills that can lead to meaningful employment and to improve life chances. But we need to do more to promote mental health and wellbeing and be mindful of the wider determinants of mental health that affect so many of our learners. Enabling learners to be the best they can be requires them to have a positive sense of mental health and wellbeing and be able to seek help when they need it.
The Mental Health and Apprenticeship modules and case studies are a start to help providers understand how to do this and provide examples and ideas of how other providers are already tacking poor mental health in their learners.