Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority

The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day on October 10 every year. The theme for World Mental Health Day this year is Make Mental Health and Well-Being for All a Global Priority.

Oct 14, 2022

                                                   Heart, Mind and Soul Fr Philip Chua

The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day on October 10 every year. The theme for World Mental Health Day this year is Make Mental Health and Well-Being for All a Global Priority. The theme this year is both compelling and inspirational. “Compelling” because we have now positioned mental health in its rightful place as a key focus area in the domain of universal health care and “Inspirational” because of the inroads we have made in championing the mental health agenda on a global scale.

The trajectory in which mental health has been transformed from a topic shunned by many to it becoming mainstream is nothing short of impressive. Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic played a pivotal role in accelerating and propelling mental health issues into the general public’s consciousness. But, there is still much to be done. The aptly chosen theme this year also advocates urgency and equal access to mental health care as the pandemic continues to take a toll and undermine our mental health and well-being.

Globally, we are witnessing one of the most turbulent times in the history of humankind. A lingering pandemic, devastating climate emergency, growing humanitarian crises and conflicts, soaring inflation, escalating poverty/social inequality and rising unemployment... the list goes on. Many of us lament over the state of the world today and may even be inured to the next looming catastrophe. These are, indeed, trying times. And in trying times we need to have mental fortitude. Yet, in the face of the tribulations in our daily lives, mental grit and resilience may remain an elusive goal.

Even before the pandemic, the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey showed that nearly half a million Malaysians were already encountering symptoms of depression. Additionally, over the course of two decades, mental health statistics have tripled and are expected to adversely impact the Malaysian economy to the tune of RM25.3 trillion in 2030. In 2020 alone, a total of 1,081 suicide attempts have been recorded in Malaysia. Between March and October 2020, 266 people died by suicide for reasons ranging from economic debt to family problems. What is shocking is the revelation that half of all mental health disorders begin by the tender age of 14 and three quarters by the mid-20s. The need for swift action and prioritisation of mental health is overwhelmingly clear.

Despite the seemingly ambitious theme, making mental health and well-being for all a global priority can also be a personal mission.

Here I outline three simple actions that we can take to make a meaningful difference for ourselves, the people we love and the communities that we live in.

1. Cultivate a better understanding of mental health
Knowledge, they say, is power. Mental health awareness helps us develop a more intimate understanding of mental health issues, learn to better cope with the stresses in life and realise that we are all struggling in one way or another to overcome the challenges in life. Often this will lead to greater empathy and compassion towards people suffering from mental health issues and the knowledge of our own mental health needs. So, do invest some time to read about mental health, sign up for mental health talks or simply speak to a mental health practitioner. Ignorance, in this case, is not bliss.

2. Commit yourself to better self-care
Mental healthcare starts with self-care – if we are mindful about our own needs, we are better able to support the people that we care about. It is important that we take care of our body, mind and soul every day. Self-care can help us better manage our stress, supports our overall well-being, makes us more conscious of our personal needs and help us to be more resilient in these unprecedented times. However, most of us fail at self-care as we are consumed by the demands of our daily lives. Commit yourself to allocate some “me time”, build your sense of belonging by rekindling lost friendships or simply by exercising more or eating healthier. If you are struggling with mental health, remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Be kinder to yourself and do not be afraid to take the first step towards healing. Remember that everyone has the right to have good mental health and well-being – including yourself.

3. De-mystify and de-stigmatise mental health
Despite the pervasiveness of mental health issues, people with mental health concerns often avoid seeking treatment and support due to the (continued associated) stigma. And stigma leads to discrimination. We need to recognise that mental health is a desirable quality in its own right. We can start doing so by challenging our own biases and consciously practising greater inclusion. While perceptions are changing, we still need to keep the conversation about mental health open to increase awareness, education and support. The World Mental Health Day provides us a great platform for us to do so.

We are all vulnerable to having our mental health impacted at some point in your lives, especially in these times of global turmoil. Mental health challenges are a universal problem. They do not discriminate based on one’s age, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity or creed.

More than ever, we need to make mental health not just a global priority but a personal one as well. It starts and ends with us. So, let’s all be part of the solution.

(Fr Philip Chua is a registered and licensed Counsellor & Clinical Supervisor under Lembaga Kaunselor Malaysia. He is also the Ecclesiastical Assistant for the Archdiocesan Mental Health Ministry.)

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Viola Michael [email protected]
Well said and congrats Fr Philip Chua .. keep on writing and reminding us about mental health