October 10 is globally marked as World Mental Day each year. On this day, the World Health Organization (WHO) focuses on raising awareness about mental health and dispel myths and stigma about mental illnesses. It creates a platform that educates the general public on mental illness and also enables them to mobilize support for people, doctors, support and care workers and families dealing with mental health issues.
Mental health is a global challenge, regardless of gender, class, religion or other forms of stratification. Mental illness can affect anyone. According to WHO statistics (2001), an estimated 450 million people across the world have a mental health problem. Anxiety and depression are among the most common mental health issues followed by other psychiatric disorders like bipolar, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)and other personality disorders. Self-harm and suicides are some of the fallouts of mental health issues.
AdvertisementA major challenge to mental health issues is the stigma and discrimination. People with mental illnesses are often forced to contend with societal abuse and oppression. Despite modern advances in mental healthcare, community myths continue to exist and add to the burden of mental illness. Apart from the illness, the person has to deal with negative and discriminatory attitudes in society. Often people with mental illness suffer verbal, physical and psychological abuse within their own families. An ill-informed public coupled with negative portrayals of mental illness in mass media create an environment of stigma and shame.
In developing countries like India, people with mental illness (especially in some rural and remote areas) are often confined to small rooms within the house and in some cases are even tied up. Myths about mental illness being a curse of the gods continue to prevail and people are forced to receive so-called cures from quacks like witch-doctors and local magicians. People with mental illness often do not receive the right support whether medical or psychosocial. Denied of basic human rights and access to healthcare, their condition worsens. The only solution to dispel the myths and diffuse the stigma of mental illness is concerted and relentless efforts in raising public awareness.
Consciousness-raising through a platform like World Mental Health Day enables a range of country-wide campaigns to make the public aware of mental health issues. The campaigns invite medical professionals, caregivers, sufferers and others interested to come together to inform and educate the general public. The idea is to make the public aware that mental health issues are similar to physical health conditions and require timely interventions and treatment. Clinical and psychosocial interventions can alleviate the problem and enable mentally ill people to lead a normal life.
World Mental Health Day is a collaborative platform to bring together people and families, communities, healthcare professional and caregivers on an equal footing to take charge of mental health issues and deal with it as best as possible. World Mental Health Day is a public campaign to inform and educate the public to bring about an attitudinal shift towards mental illnesses.
"Dignity in Mental Health"This theme is of great significance considering that people with mental health issues are stigmatized and do not have access to basic human rights. People with mental illness often face abuse, discrimination and marginalization in education, healthcare, employment, housing and other facilities. They are denied their rights in accessing modern mental healthcare and drugs which can alleviate symptoms. Health systems do not view the sufferer as a person in his/her own right and deny any participation in his/her treatment. Mental illness sufferers are infantilized and high-handed decisions taken by the family or the health system without consulting the person. Denying basic human rights of decision making has greater negative impacts on sufferers thus adding to the issue at hand. This year's theme pushes for dignity to people with mental health issues by affirming their personhood and right to take decisions in their healthcare.
The WHO will be focusing on human rights oriented policies and legislations, ethical training for mental health professionals, democratic participation in treatment programs and public campaigns. The need of the hour is a compassionate, empathetic, ethical and just approach to mental health issues and healthcare putting the person at the centre of the system.
On this World Mental Health Day, try to build dignity within people with mental illnesses by following a few steps:
- Eradicate myths and stigma on mental illness
- Encourage your fellow-mates to support people with mental illnesses
- Build support system in your communities
- Make time for your friends and family
- Seek help if you are feeling depressed
- Enjoy a fun activity with kids
- Have a positive attitude on life
- Eat a healthy diet
- De-stress at work
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Exercise regularly
- Get involved in social activities