As part of Mental Health Week, Shahid Naqvi meets an expert who believes sufferers may get by best with a little help from their friends
Family, friends and even employers have as much a role to play in helping people overcome mental illness as psychiatric services, a Birmingham health expert claimed.
Mervyn Morris, from the University of Central England, said more effort should be made "mobilising" their support to help people overcome problems, such as depression.
"It would be a more valuable thing for people who have had mental illness to find a way through it without going to psychiatric services," he said.
"Of course, services can play an important role at certain times in people's lives, but by and large they are not things that help people find some kind of sense of meaning and purpose.
"They are not the relationships that make people feel wanted and valued, which are the things that help people get back on track."
With more than six million people in the UK on antidepressant tablets, Mr Morris - head of UCE's Centre for Community Mental Health - said the wider community needed to play a greater part.
"The role of family and friends in supporting people in times of difficulty is very important," he said. "If there was more focus on mobilising this route of resource you would see considerable difference in the way people improve."
Mr Morris said employers could help by being more flexible with individuals suffering mental illness.
" A lot of people with mental- health problems become devalued and excluded from things that are important to them in their lives," he said.
"So rather than not looking after their children or being allowed to do their job, with simple adjustments they can still do things, with support, for a limited period of time."
The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2020 mental illness will go from being the 20th to secondlargest illness worldwide.
It represents 11.6 per cent of disabilities - compared to 10.3 per cent cardiovascular disease and 5.3 per cent cancer.
Despite this, it remains a relatively taboo and underresourced area of health.
Part of the problem is the complex and subjective nature of conditions, such as depression, making them difficult and time-demanding to treat.
As a result, GPs have been quick to prescribe "quick-fix" anti-depressant tablets.
A study by Norwich Union Healthcare, published a year ago, found four out of five family doctors admitted overprescribing Prozac and similar drugs for people suffering from depression and anxiety.
They blamed a lack of alternative treatment, such as counselling and behavioural therapy.
But Mr Morris suggested GPs were possibly also influenced by drug companies upon whom they focused their marketing strategies.
"You can't rule out the fact that we are talking about big business. Drug companies invest enormous amounts of money in their medication.
"They are selling people solutions to problems. The marketing strategies of drug companies isn't with the consumer, it is with the GP."
Stigma surrounding mental illness has not been aided by recent high-profile cases of violence, involving patients reported by the media.
Like, for example, that of paranoid schizophrenic John Barrett who earlier this month murdered a retired bank manager the day after being let out of a mental-health unit.
But despite moves by politicians to bring in new laws, allowing people with extreme illness to be detained against their will, Mr Morris warned against knee-jerk responses.
"There hasn't been a significant increase in the number of people with mental illness killing people in the community in the last 20 years," he said.
At the end of the day, Mr Morris believes most mental illness is best dealt with by giving people a chance to live in the community as normally as possible.
"I am completely dedicated to closing institutions," he said.