Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Interview

Simon Wessely: “Every time we have a mental health awareness week my spirits sink”

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 21 September 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j4305
  1. Sophie Arie
  1. freelance journalist, London
  1. sarie{at}

The first psychiatrist president of the Royal Society of Medicine is worried that over-awareness of mental ill health will sink an under-resourced service

One of the UK’s most prominent psychiatrists has called for an end to public awareness campaigning about mental health. It “massively expands demand” on already stretched NHS services and may be convincing people they are ill when they are not, warns Simon Wessely, who was until June president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

“Every time we have a mental health awareness week my spirits sink,” says Wessely, who in July became the first psychiatrist to be president of the Royal Society of Medicine. “We don’t need people to be more aware. We can’t deal with the ones who already are aware.”

Fresh from his move to the royal society, Wessely remains concerned about the over-reporting and under-resourcing of mental illness, and the lack of integration between mental and physical health services—despite NHS England head Simon Stevens’ affirmation last month that mental health is now “front and centre” of the health service agenda.1

“I’m really worried that we will overstretch and demoralise our mental health services if all we do is raise awareness but don’t provide more people, better circumstances, better support, and less burden of regulation,” he told The BMJ.

Too much awareness

Recent years have seen a major drive by government, the NHS, and mental health charities to change attitudes towards mental health and to raise its profile in line with physical health. In a crescendo of media coverage, royals and celebrities have opened up about their own struggles.

Despite having …

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