As the world grapples with the continuing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, one thing has become painfully clear: mental health remains a largely neglected issue. The pandemic triggered a stark increase in already common mental health concerns, particularly depression and anxiety. The resulting displacement and unemployment also significantly exacerbated mental health concerns. Even prior to the pandemic, 1 in 8 people around the world were living with a mental health disorder. In spite of this, mental healthcare across the world faces similar hurdles. Mental health does not receive sufficient funding, lacks adequate infrastructure, and people with mental health concerns often go unsupported.
As we celebrate World Mental Health Day 2022, we must reflect on the huge toll that this disruptive pandemic has taken on our mental health and the corresponding need to create mental health awareness and provide adequate mental health services. Over the past few years, some efforts have been taken to prioritize mental health but they are not enough. The theme for World Mental Health Day 2022 is making mental health and well-being for all a global priority. In this article, we will discuss what mental health means, why it must be a global priority and how we can collectively work towards it.
Understanding mental health
WHO (2022) defines mental health as “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.” Mental health is thus more than mere survival and the absence of illness: it is an intrinsic aspect of our well-being.
Our individual social and economic environments deeply impact our mental health. Our internal qualities, the conditions at home and at work, the place where we live and age, and the quality and access to good healthcare all determine the state of our mental health and well-being. The state of our mental health in turn plays an important role in determining our life satisfaction.
Mental health thus cannot be fully understood and conceptualised at an individual level – it is an interplay of internal and external factors, which are dictated by larger social, economic, policy and political decisions. To understand why these decisions should focus on mental health, we need to examine why mental health and well-being need to be a global priority in the first place.
Why should mental health and well-being for all be a global priority?
All human beings have the right to live a life of dignity
All of us have the right to live a life of dignity and respect. Unfortunately, individuals with serious mental health concerns are often denied this. They are detained in institutional settings and their freedom of choice and sense of agency is undermined. Even outside of institutions, access to quality care is limited.
Dignity is a fundamental principle of mental health care and building this would require systemic shifts. Steps need to be taken at a social and policy level to create mental health awareness and provide quality mental health services such that individuals can seek support with dignity and respect.
The cost of mental health is immense
The social and economic costs of mental health can be immense. Since mental health shares a two-way relationship with many aspects of life and living, poor mental health is often accompanied by increased risk of homelessness, lack of education and income generation opportunities, and drug use. Further, research indicates that the economic costs can be enormous as well, with unattended mental disorders negatively impacting productivity and workforce participation, resulting in unemployment and leading to an increase in medical costs. These social and economic impacts require social and economic actions.
Thus, the intrinsic value of mental health, the right to access care with dignity and the absence of adequate support leading to social and economic costs has made it apparent that there is a need to prioritize mental health. Here are some ways in which we can work towards it.
How can we make mental health and well-being a global priority?
1. Increasing funding and restructuring mental health infrastructure
One of the best ways to improve mental health and well-being is to increase state expenditure on mental health with the goal of bridging the treatment gap. Ensuring the improvement of the nature and quality of services provided, along with accessibility is vital. Restructuring mental healthcare would also involve moving away from the biomedical model that pathologizes mental health towards a more community-based model, which encourages community engagement and treats individuals with dignity – a shift that is slowly happening globally.
2. Introducing necessary policy change
Policy change is an important step towards integrating mental health and well-being into the larger healthcare landscape. Policies should be designed with the aim of promoting mental health, reducing the prevalence of mental health concerns, and developing adequate mental health services, while also focusing on the rights and dignity of people with mental health disorders. In this process, it is important to be cognizant of the cultural and religious context as well, given the influential role they place in society.
3. Conducting mental health awareness programmes
Stigma around mental health, coming from lack of knowledge about mental health disorders, prevents people from seeking support. This in turn results in deteriorating mental health and quality of life. Large scale programmes focused on creating mental health awareness can play an important role in dispelling myths and encouraging individuals to seek the needed support. At an individual level, being proactive about educating yourself about mental health, creating awareness in the spaces we occupy and supporting people around us if they want to seek professional help can go a long way in making a difference.
4. Providing care outside of the healthcare system
Making mental care accessible outside of the healthcare system, such as in schools and at workplaces can also be very effective. In fact, corporate well-being programmes have been found helpful in taking care of individual mental health at the workplace. These initiatives also mean that mental health care moves away from medical premises, becomes more commonplace, and eventually less stigmatized. Shifts in this direction are already occurring and have made an important difference.
5. Using technological assistance for mental healthcare
The pandemic saw an increasing number of people reaching out to digital mental health services for support and assistance. Technology-based mental health services (such as teletherapy, video conferencing and mobile applications) hold immense potential. They allow for improved accessibility and availability, and help overcome barriers (such as geographic availability, social stigma etc.) associated with traditional mental health care. Integrating digital mental health within the mental healthcare infrastructure can help close the treatment gap.
Making mental health and well-being for all a global priority is an important agenda to take forward henceforth. The pandemic highlighted the frailty of the present mental health care infrastructure. We clearly need to do more to close the treatment gap. Mobilising resources at every level – from international to individual – is important. Moreover, the integration of traditional in-person support and virtual care can lead the way into the future of healthcare. Even at present, there are several digital mental health services available for individual and organisational use.
Wysa is one such prominent platform dedicated towards providing quality mental health services and corporate wellness programmes. Wysa equips its users with effective digital tools and connects them with trained professionals to help navigate their mental health journeys. You can check out the services provided by Wysa by visiting us at: https://www.wysa.io/for-individuals and https://www.wysa.io/for-employers