Mental health: the sleeping giant!

Mental health is an everyday problem in our lives, families, workplaces and communities thereby impacting everyone. This year’s World Mental Health Day’s theme: Making Mental Health & Well-Being for All a Global Priority, is an opportunity for persons with mental health conditions, advocates, governments, employers, employees and other stakeholders to come together to recognize the impact of inaction on mental health and to be active participants in ensuring mental health and wellbeing is prioritized in all spaces and for all.

Mental disorders affect people of all ages, racial or ethnic groups, but some populations are disproportionately affected. Although most people are resilient, the World Health Organization reports that people who are exposed to adverse circumstances including poverty, violence, disability and inequality are at higher risk.

Most persons with mental illness have experienced a sense of loss or detachment from their families, friends and regular routines or nervousness and anxiety about changes in their personal and professional lives.

For some, fear and worry constantly leads to agitation and confusion whereas for others, frequent and severe periods of depression are a daily burden that interferes with family, career and social responsibilities. All too often, such problems lead to alcohol or drug abuse, self-destructive behavior or even suicide.

Over the years, there has been increasing acknowledgement of the important role mental health plays in achieving global health goals as illustrated in the inclusion of mental health in the Sustainable Development Goals. Improving mental health is part of goal 3 and has important knock on effects on other goals such as keeping more children and young people in school as well as economic development. Ensuring that people living with mental illness are included in development interventions improves mental health outcomes and reinforces the principle of leaving no one behind.  

Although there is an urgent need to scale up mental health care globally, mental illness would not disappear even if there were universal access to the most effective mental health care currently available. Promotion and prevention of mental illness should be integrated into broader health priorities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, to help mitigate the incidence and prevalence of mental illness as well as achieve other goals for health, economic and social development.

WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030 recognizes the essential role of mental health in achieving health for all people. Mental health and wellbeing is fundamental to improving the quality of life, enabling people to experience meaningful life and to be creative and active. Mental health promotion therefore needs to target the whole population in all the spaces of life. The development and implementation of effective plans to promote mental health will enhance mental well-being for all.

Advancing mental health

Increased investment is required on all fronts: for mental health awareness to increase understanding and reduce stigma; for efforts to increase access to quality mental health care and effective treatments; and for research to identify new treatments and improve existing treatments for all mental disorders.

Stigma and discrimination continue to be a barrier to social inclusion and access to the right care. The health sector can contribute to the reshaping of the determinants of mental health by embedding promotion and prevention efforts within health services, by advocating, initiating and where appropriate, facilitating multi-sectoral collaboration and coordination.

Adopting a community-based mental health care, which is more accessible and acceptable than institutional care, helps promote a person-centered and right-based approach for mental health by preventing human rights violations and delivering better recovery outcomes for people with mental health conditions.

Promoting and supporting mental health at work can be supported through legislation and regulation, organizational strategies, manager training and interventions for workers. Promoting child and adolescent mental health is another priority and can be achieved by policies and laws that promote and protect mental health, supporting caregivers to provide nurturing care, implementing school-based programmes and improving the quality of community and online environments.

Half the years of implementation of the WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030 has elapsed and yet little progress has been seen. The Mental Health Plan 2020 shows massive inequalities in the availability of mental health programs, accompanying resources and their allocation between high- and low-income countries and across regions. It also shows significant gaps globally between the existence of policies, plans and laws and their implementation and monitoring. Similar gaps can be seen in the implementation of mental health services at the primary health care level.

WHO calls on all countries to accelerate the implementation of the action plan. It argues that all countries to accelerate implementation of the action plan. It argues that all countries can achieve meaningful progress towards better mental health for their populations by focusing on three paths to transformation:

  • Deepen the value given to mental health by individuals, communities and governments; and matching that value with commitment, engagement and investment by all stakeholders, across all sectors;
  • Reshape the physical, social and economic characteristics of environments – in homes, schools, workplaces and the wider community – to better protect mental health and prevent mental health conditions; and
  • Strengthen mental health care so that the full spectrum of mental health needs is met through a community-based network of accessible, affordable and quality services and supports.

Through comprehensive and integrated approaches, that are inclusive, reject discrimination and supports recovery, optimal mental health for all is attainable!

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