Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental health text with a sprig of fern

This year in the UK Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 13th to 19th May. It was created by the Mental Health Foundation in 2001 and the week aims to tackle stigma and help people understand and prioritise their and others’ mental health. The original theme in 2001 was ‘Friendship and Mental Health’ and this year it is ‘Movement: Moving for our mental health.’

The Mental Health Foundation believes that the week is vital in increasing public understanding of mental health and how mental health problems can be prevented. Events will take place across the country in schools, colleges and universities, in the public, private and third sectors and in the media. The intention is to ensure that mental health remains at the centre of public discussion. In addition, it
keeps up the pressure for change so that we collectively prioritise the UK’s mental health, prevent mental health problems and take action to make sure we live in a society that values and promotes good mental health for all.

There is perhaps universal agreement that movement is good for both your mental and physical health. It doesn’t have to be running marathons or scaling mountains. A series of posters have been produced by the Foundation urging people to move for wellbeing. They suggest moving around a room when you are waiting for the kettle to boil or walking short distances before your bus arrives. Further examples and publicity material can be found on their website at

In your area there will be existing groups supporting people with mental health challenges such as ‘Men in Sheds’ or ‘Woodland Wanderers.’ I live in York and one group there has highlighted how people can be helped in a surprising way.

In 2021 the York Archaeological Trust set up Archaeology on Prescription, a project to involve local people, who may have experienced social anxiety or depression, with experienced archaeologists on an excavation in the city. The success of Operation Nightingale has already shown that archaeological practice has helped soldiers recover from the physical injuries and mental trauma sustained during active military service. Participants in the York scheme were referred by the NHS or social prescribers. They receive training and are supervised by the professionals. Teamwork is encouraged, as by definition archaeology is a communal activity. However, quiet spaces are available at all times in case they are needed.

The dig is at the site of an empty local authority care home soon to be demolished for housing development. I have met a number of participants and professionals at project open days and they were pleased at what they had achieved. Objects found have included a flint arrowhead several thousand years old, a Roman coin, shards of mediaeval pottery and animal bones, which probably came from a Victorian butcher’s shop. One man was delighted to show me a soft drinks can from the 1980s he had unearthed, a brand he remembered well from his childhood. His enthusiasm led us to having a long conversation about how life was very different all those years ago. After taking part in a worthwhile activity, with a genuine purpose that delivered results he had felt valued. The archaeologists told me that knowledge of the city’s history had been obtained and they had increased their understanding of mental ill health.

The goal of Mental Health Awareness Week ought to be to make itself redundant. There may be a long way to go. Recent comments by a government minister that those with a ‘mild mental health condition’ may no longer be entitled to claim welfare benefits has caused anger amongst disability groups. The implication is that those in power do not really believe that some mental illnesses actually exist.

Imagine a time when Mental Health Awareness Week will no longer be needed. Then the general population will be fully aware of the impact of mental ill health on adults and children; people will recognise how anxiety and stress can lead to mental illness; and they will support and respect those at risk. It will be a time when people with mental health challenges, or disabilities in general, are treated
neither as victims nor shirkers. We can get there.

Many of the applicants to the Social Workers Benevolent Trust are suffering from mental ill health. For some its anxiety due to their debts, threats of eviction or violence from a partner; for others its their relatives whose mental health is fragile and for others its an ongoing reality for themselves.

I know that people are far more aware of mental illness today than when I began my social work career in the depths of the last century. In the meantime, until Mental Health Awareness Week falls into desuetude, keep moving for mental health, discuss the subject with those around you and put pressure on the policy makers. Perhaps mental health can even be a key topic at the forthcoming General Election.

Mike Young
Trustee – Social Workers’ Benevolent Trust
3rd May 2024