AS the UK marked World Mental Health Day this month, the head of an Oxfordshire charity that works with people with mental health issues marked his very own personal landmark.

Dan Knowles, the 48-year old chief executive of Oxfordshire Mind, marked two years to the day with the Oxford-based charity on October 10.

On the same day, countries all over the world took part in an awareness campaign shining a light on the work mental health groups do and raising awareness and educating others about mental health issues.

Oxfordshire Mind, which works with tens of thousands of people in the county, was among the charities that took part in the campaign.

Speaking of the project this month Mr Knowles, who lives in Sutton Courtenay, told the Oxford Times: “Raising awareness is a huge part of what we do.

“There are a number of key messages to get out - the first is that if you’re suffering, you’re not alone and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

“The second is - talk. To a friend, family member, GP, or our information line.

“The third is - in most cases, there is help available, start the conversation and the rest, for most people, will follow.”

Oxfordshire Mind helps more than 20,000 people with mental health challenges every year.

Speaking of his work with the organisation, the married father-of-two said that what motivates him is the dedication and ‘bravery’ of many of its service users.

He said: “What motivates me is working with our passionate and wonderful staff, and also the everyday bravery of our service users.

“Some people, through no fault of their own, have been given extra challenges in their lives compared to other more fortunate people - and their fortitude and resilience to cope in the face of really tough times is inspirational.”

Talking of the work the organisation does, Mr Knowles said that there was a wide range of services available from practical advice to offering volunteering opportunities.

He said: “We promote good mental health through the provision of high quality services, and campaigning for positive change.

“Our services include housing, talking therapies, benefits advice, a confidential and free information line, courses, such as ‘practical ways to wellbeing’, physical activity programmes, volunteering opportunities, and we facilitate over 60 peer support groups each week.

“The biggest challenge for us, in common with the rest of the country, is a significant and worrying rise in mental health issues amongst younger people, allied to the challenges of funding.”

He went on to say that Oxfordshire Mind was in a fortunate position and that it worked well with a number of local groups and initiatives county-wide.

He said: “In Oxfordshire we are very lucky to have real collaboration between local authorities, the NHS, and third sector.

“Partnerships such as the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership, which I chair, and the TalkingSpace Plus Partnership, receive central funding and bring together the best of the NHS and third sector for the benefit of our service users.

“There is always more we can do of course and, as of today, we have yet to see any extra funding coming our way from the various promises that have been made by Westminster politicians.”

Talking of how Oxfordshire compares to the rest of the UK, he said that levels of funding were not in line with the rest of the country.

He said: “Per capita funding for mental health in Oxfordshire is lower than the national average.

“On some outcome measures, for example self-harm and suicide in younger people, we sit worse than the national average.

“Given that we pay more in tax than the national average, this doesn’t seem fair - and is something we want to focus on in 2019.”

One of Oxfordshire Mind’s core values is ‘challenging stigma’ that surrounds mental health issues.

Talking of stigma generally Mr Knowles said that work was being done to tackle this and to make mental health issues more accepted.

He said: “There is undoubtedly a stigma associated with mental health issues, but the good news is this is breaking down.

“More and more celebrities, musicians, artists, and sports people are coming forward and acknowledging their own challenges, which is hugely positive.

“I take my hat off to every single person who comes forward to talk about their own experience - by doing so they help others.”

Asked about the importance of the work Oxfordshire Mind does, Mr Knowles said that a quarter of people in any single year will be told they have a mental health problem.

Supporting people with these conditions, he said, was part of what the charity strives to do.

He said: “Everyone has physical health, and everyone has mental health.

“One in four people in any one year will have a diagnosable mental health condition - that’s around 170,000 people in Oxfordshire.

“Ensuring every one of these people is able to live a fulfilling life, make a contribution to society, and maximise their own personal happiness is what motivates our employees and volunteers every day.”

Talking of future and ongoing projects Mr Knowles went on to single out for praise the work of a new service called Oxford Safe Haven.

The organisation provides a ‘crisis café’ for anyone suffering mental health problems at night and at the weekend.

Explaining the service Mr Knowles said: “Before this opened the only place to go was the emergency department at the John Radcliffe Hospital.

“This service, which opened earlier this year and is run by the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership, has already saved lives and our ambition is to be able to open more Safe Havens in other parts of the county, for more nights per week.”

Asked about his own personal projects he said he had several major fundraising events on the horizon.

He said: “This year I took part in the Race to the Stones ultramarathon along the Ridgeway and raised £3,300 for our younger people’s work.

“Next year I will be climbing up Mont Blanc with some friends and skiing back down.

“I’m 48 but I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon. “

To find out more about various mental health conditions and support available locally visit