Dr calls for change of mind on mental health treatment

How to counsel someone with mental health problems should be taught in the same way we train people to save lives through CPR.

That’s the view of health campaigner Dr Zahid Chauhan who also wants to see people with suicidal tendencies treated as seriously as other emergency patients on hospital wards and in surgeries.

Dr Zahid Chauhan

Speaking in the wake of World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10) and new figures released on male suicides, Chauhan challenged society to view illnesses of the mind in the same way they would with any serious physical ailment, saying: “Conditions such as clinical depression are as serious and life-threatening as cancer. We must remove the stigma around psychological problems, so that we can intervene early – and improve and save lives.”

Figures released earlier this week show that rates of male suicide are at a 30 year-low – but Dr Chauhan remains particularly concerned that men (particularly aged between 45-50) are remaining silent on the triggers that lead to tragedy. A study released in August showed that men working in construction for example, were three times more likely to take their own life.

“We have to get away from the notion that talking about emotional problems is any way weak or unnecessary” continued Dr Chauhan, “and we also have to be more aware of how some men feel excluded, isolated and unable to talk to anyone.

While not advocating that everyone should be qualified counsellors, Dr Chauhan wants people to be trained in listening and spotting the signs of severe mental illness. A passionate campaigner for heart resuscitation techniques (CPR) to be taught in school, Dr Chauhan now wants an army of volunteers to learn:

• How to listen in a non-judgemental way to someone experiencing mental health issues
• Where to refer someone who is anxious, depressed and even suicidal and,
• How to spot the signs of mental health illness – from self-harm scars to lethargy and eating disorders

“I believe that poor mental health is one of the biggest problems facing our society today” concluded Dr Chauhan, “aside from being distressing and debilitating, it is the cause of many physical health problems, spurring on alcohol addiction, comfort eating and smoking and creating sedentary, hope-less life styles.

As medics we examine why a heart attack has happened and how changes in diet and exercise can benefit. Why then don’t we get to the root of why a person has attempted to take their life?”

Homelessness, confusion over sexuality, loss of status and anxiety around money are frequently cited as triggering suicidal thoughts.

Concluded Dr Chauhan: “Suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 45. If that condition had been cancer or heart disease we would be leaping in to do something about it. Busting taboos around mental health and learning the basics of counselling would at least be a healthy start.”