Hammer and Dance: A New Model for Mental Health?

Why society treats mental health problems as if they were infectious diseases.

Kevin Redmayne

--

Is Mental illness an infection? Certainly not, but the so-called “hammer and dance” theory of managing COVID-19, is much like how we as society choose to deal with mental health.

As coronavirus infection rates soared, governments worldwide struck heavy hammer-blows of social measures — including lockdowns — in an attempt flatten the curve. The theory goes once the virus has been suppressed, measures are relaxed, and the dance of containment begins.

A similar scenario plays out every time an individual succumbs to a mental health crisis: A surge in symptoms, provoke a hammer blow of suppression. Once symptoms remit, so begins a dance to keep them under control. However can such a theory be applied to ideas of crisis and recovery?

Warning signs of a Mental Health Crisis

Let’s go with the analogy to begin with: The warning signs of an impending mental health crisis emerge like a pandemic. Like the reports of ‘mysterious new penumonia’ of an unknown origin coming out of Wuhan in early-January, the “prodrome” of any illness often goes unheeded.

Individuals experiencing mental health problems, behave much like protectionist countries: Already isolated and cut-off, they’re often unable to get feedback from friends or family. However, as the table below shows, even when help is sought; treatment is often inaccessible, inappropriate or wholly ineffective.

McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016) Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds: NHS Digital

In reality, while 25% of the population will experience a mental health problem, only one third will get treatment; two thirds won’t. Furthermore, those that do, may be subject to the wrong kind of treatment. For instance, from 2008–2018 the use of psychotropic medication increased by 97%; on the other hand levels of therapy remained staggeringly low. While the UK’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) policy, has helped, those with severe mental illness, conditions like Schizophrenia, Bipolar or Personality…

--

--

Kevin Redmayne

Freelance journalist writing on mental health and disability. Words have the power to shine a light on realities otherwise missed.