Last week was ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’.

I am consciously writing about it after, rather than before the week in question – because I hope that we are not going to regard mental health awareness as something that should only last for one week.

It wasn’t that long ago that we used to be afraid about talking about cancer. I remember, as a child, just half a century ago, hearing adults literally whisper the word.

Of course, nowadays, that has all changed. So we are no longer too terrified to talk about cancer.

I am afraid that mental illness is still suffering from the same problem that cancer suffered from 50 years ago. We are too frightened to talk about it.

Part of the reason for this, no doubt, is that some forms of it are still incredibly difficult to treat effectively. But, given that there are actually effective interventions even for many of the most serious psychosis, I don’t think this can be the whole explanation for us being afraid to discuss mental illness as openly as we should.

I think that the root of the problem actually lies in the fact that mental illness, unlike physical illness, still carries (amazingly) some of the stigma that it carried back in the 19th Century and beyond. And that, in turn, I think derives from the fact that mental illness is in some ways more profound than physical illness – because it affects our personalities rather than merely our bodies. We are afraid of it because the prospect of an assault on our inner being is the most terrifying thing that we can imagine.

But if we are to recognise the full scale of the problem, and if we are to devote a proper proportion of our NHS resources to dealing with it, we have to get over these understandable fears.

The discussion of mental illness has to become as open and frank and unashamed as the discussion of physical illness - so that we can also talk in an open and unconstrained way about the steps we need to take to address it.

Having a ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ is one way of beginning to prompt such open discussion – but it is only the beginning of what must be a sustained effort to put a final end to the taboo.