October 10th each year is celebrated as World Mental Health Day. The day also provides an occasion as well as an opportunity for people who work on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what needs to be done to make mental healthcare a reality for citizens around the world. And today it comes at a time when we are all in a desperate state while battling this pandemic and the fears related to it in our ways. Be it people confined to their homes or people going to work for essential duties, everyone has had to face some or the other unprecedented circumstances in the past few months. We cannot even gauge the trauma undergone by the people who were either themselves or their families were actually affected by COVID-19. Today, let’s talk about what we can do to help us nurture our mental health.
What is Mental Health?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual can realise his/her own potential and can handle the stresses of everyday life while working productively and fruitfully, making a meaningful contribution to the community. In other words, mental health is synonymous with your cognitive, emotional, and social well-being. It eventually affects how you think, feel, behave, and is absolutely crucial at every stage of life.
History of World Mental Health Day
10 October 1992, was the first World Mental Health Day observed as an annual activity of the World Federation for Mental Health and had no specific theme back then. However, after 1994, at the suggestion of then-Secretary General Eugene Brody, a theme for the day was designated each year to highlight key issues related to mental health. The very first theme in 1994 was “Improving the Quality of Mental Health Services throughout the World.” Since then, each year this day marks the occasion of spreading the much-needed awareness about the issues about topics about mental health. Over the passing years, it has come to be signified by a green ribbon, similar to a red ribbon used for HIV/AIDS.
World Mental Health Day, 2020
“This year’s World Mental Health Day, on 10 October, comes at a time when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated by the WHO. Furthermore, they say that the past few months have been challenging for all frontline workers, students, teachers, friends, relatives, and hundreds of other professionals. This has been true for almost all nations alike. Doubtlessly, as the economic consequences of the pandemic are being felt by millions of people worldwide, it is inevitable that ‘the need for mental health and psychosocial support will substantially increase in the coming months’. Bearing this in mind, the theme of the year 2020 is increased investment in mental health.
Global Statistics on Mental Health Problems
As per several integrated studies conducted by various mental health organizations globally, WHO puts together cumulative statistics that show the apparent yet sheer numbers of people affected by mental health issues. WHO states that 1 in 5 children and adolescents today have a mental health problem. Around 1 in 9 people in households affected by conflicts or disputes have a moderate or severe mental disorder. Over 264 million people are affected by depression and, so far it is one of the leading causes of disability. Almost 800 000 people die by suicide every year; 1 person dies from suicide every 40 seconds. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in individuals aged 15-29 years. Less than half of the 139 countries that have mental health policies and plans report having these aligned with human rights conventions.
Amidst the COVID crisis, mental health has gained even more importance. In the past few months, we have also seen people with mental health conditions experiencing even greater social isolation than before. Given the circumstances, it is expected that the need for mental health and psycho-social support will substantially be on the rise in the coming months. The statistics showing the number of people affected mentally due to the pandemic is still being evaluated. But this data will be made to the public once WHO compiles it from all the studies conducted in various countries.
Significance of WMHD
It is highly crucial to realize that healthy emotional life is primarily a matter of how a person’s mental processes and understands information, experiences, and knowledge regarding the current ongoings in and around one’s surroundings. This day each year the overall objective remains to raise awareness about mental health issues around the world in an effort to mobilize stakeholders to support causes pertaining to mental health. As per WHO, the Day provides an opportunity for all those working for mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more can be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.
Mental illness – Warning signs to watch out for!
In developing countries, it is still considered a stigma to be diagnosed with mental illness. It is basically for this reason that a lot of people do not seek medical advice in time leading to detrimental consequences in the long run. This is the very reason why it is utmost important to educate people about the red flags of such illnesses. Following are the five warning signs which can be looked out for by the person himself or respective family or friends in order to report them in time-
- Constant irritability or sadness
- Extremely good or bad moods
- Excessive fear, anxiety or worry
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Social withdrawal
Albeit these are just a few things to pay attention to, it is also important to note that according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) each illness has its own set of symptoms, some of them can also be present together at a time. Here are some other common warning signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents.
- Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
- Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
- Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
- Changes in libido
- Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)
- Inability to perceive changes in one’s feelings, behaviour or personality (” lack of insight” or anosognosia)
- Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
- Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
- Contemplating suicide
- Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
- Intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance
The good news is that one can always approach their primary care provider or family physician and talk about any of the symptoms that were experienced or noticed. Just like any other illness of any system of the body, this too should come across as a part and parcel and treatment should be sought. It only goes to show our respect and love towards ourselves and our family when we care and understand.
Take home message
As we accept care and help when we are bodily sick and invest in our health, similarly, we must be prepared to accept care and invest our time and money even when we are ailing psychologically. When we do this, we can change, grow, and expand our horizons to reach out and offer help to others. When we are healthy, we feel better about ourselves and mindful of our blessings with deep gratitude for life. Good Health is a blessing and we must be aware of any warning signs, so we can get help and begin to feel better in a timeous fashion. It is all about acknowledging that self-care is our right and nothing that we need to feel ashamed about and believe in the fact that “we are totally worth it!”
Written by Dr. Aafreen Kotadiya
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