Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. It affects how we think, feel, act, and helps determine how we cope with stress, engage with others, and make decisions. Mental health refers to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. The two most common mental health conditions are:
- Anxiety Disorders (including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder (panic attacks), generalized anxiety disorder and specific phobias), and
- Mood Disorders (such as depression and bipolar depression)
While in recent years there has been some increased sensitisation to mental health issues through the influence of celebrities and a few NGOs, there continues to be a lack of awareness among the general population about mental health challenges and the importance of supporting people’s emotional well-being. Worse yet, according to a joint release by the World Health Organization (WHO), United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health, mental health is still one of the most neglected areas of public health in countries around the world. The WHO estimates that globally, close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide.
Now more than ever, as the Covid-19 pandemic takes its emotional and psychological toll, emphasis must be placed upon the importance of safeguarding mental health. Covid-19 has been stressful. Fear and anxiety about the new disease are overwhelming and have caused strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing and the reduction in domestic and international travel, have disrupted social routines and have isolated people from their loved ones, causing intense feelings of loneliness for many. Loss of jobs, the sudden closure of schools, and new insecurities about the future have provoked tremendous feelings of stress, anxiety and sadness. Billions of people around the world have been affected by Covid-19 and related containment strategies, which means that mental health challenges could soon become the next great threat to public health.
People struggling with their mental health may be in your family, live next door, teach your children, work in the next cubicle or sit in the same church pew. It could even be you. Nevertheless, stigma and discrimination against those experiencing mental health issues are widespread. There are many who think that people living with mental health disorders are “just making it up,” lazy or even “demon-possessed.” These negative labels have come about due to the lack of awareness and can have unfortunate effects on mental health sufferers. Studies have shown that increased isolation and discrimination against these persons may result in the following: poor school/work performance, fewer opportunities for employment and social mobility, an increased risk of alcoholism/drug abuse, and a greater likelihood of suicide.
Awareness is key for understanding what mental health is and how individuals and families can receive the help they need. So what can we do to raise awareness of mental health and how can we help to reduce the trauma experienced by persons suffering with mental health issues?
Firstly, we can start by having open and honest conversations about mental health with those around us. Talk about how they are feeling and take the time to truly listen. Check in regularly, especially if they are under strain or dealing with a mental health condition. Show respect, understanding and acceptance. Let them know that they are not “wrong” for feeling the way they do. Talk to children about mental health and help them to understand that our minds and emotions deserve just as much care as our bodies do. Advocating mental health awareness within our circles of influence (such as in our workplaces or on social media) can help to create bubbles of support and acceptance for persons faced with mental health concerns.
Learning more about mental health and available mental health resources can also allow us to provide helpful support to those affected in our families and communities. Learning is the key to progress. If we want to create a more understanding society in which mental health is treated with the same importance as physical health, we must start first by learning and then teaching. Don’t be afraid to seek and share information on mental health. Spread the word that mental health issues are real, common and can be treated. That way, we help to reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues and clear a path for those who are suffering secretly to access the help that they need.
Contributor: Sadiyah Mohammed