SUNDAY OCTOBER 10 was observed as World Mental Health Day, a date set aside annually to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health. In today’s edition of Midweek Searchlight on page 7, we publish three articles which have issues pertaining to mental health as their focus.
This year’s observance finds us in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which has had a major impact on the mental health of people all over the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some groups, including health and other frontline workers, students, people living alone, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions, have been particularly affected. And services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders have been significantly disrupted.
On the positive side, in recent times, admitting that one is struggling with depression or even that one has had a diagnosis of a mental health disorder no longer carries with it the stigma it did 10 or even five years ago.
Prominent public figures like Prince Harry, Adele, Beyonce, J.K. Rowling, Michelle Obama and Naomi Osaka have opened up in recent times about having struggled with depression or mental health issues. But although the stigma is not what it was some years ago, there is still a pressing need in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and around the world for there to be greater focus on health beyond the physical in a sustained way.
This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day was ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’, a most appropriate theme, given that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased inequalities in human development, particularly among those with mental health issues. The pandemic has dealt a double blow to mental health by causing greater incidence of mental disorders and disrupting already limited mental health services.
Health is defined as complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease, while mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and make a contribution to the community, according to the WHO.
According to WHO statistics, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, mental, neurological, substance use disorders and suicide account for around a quarter of the total disease burden of Vincentians between 10 and 40 years of age, the largest burden of all disease groups during this period of life. These years are critical for learning, development and productivity; we cannot lose them to mental illness.
So, while we welcome the attention World Mental Health Day brings to mental health issues, the focus should be year-round, as statistics show that in low- and middle-income countries like SVG, over 75 per cent of people with mental health conditions receive no treatment at all. It is therefore in the interest of our nation that more resources – human, financial and infrastructural be allocated to restoring full mental health to those among us who struggle.