The time is right for more investment in mental health and improved access

October 21, 2020
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A path to greater wellbeing

Over the past decade, the field of mental health has become considerably more prominent and mainstream. Unfortunately, increased investment in mental health and improved access to it have not matched the rise in awareness.

Years of interdisciplinary research and sustained advocacy led to a landmark milestone in 2015 when mental health promotion was included among the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Mental health and well-being were considered to be among the priority agenda items for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future—and rightly so.

However, if you look at the progress we’ve made over this same period of time, efforts have typically emphasized an illness-focused diagnose and treat perspective, while mental health promotion and prevention initiatives have been largely neglected. It’s time for us to address mental health needs from a broader lens.

How can we prevent mental illness AND promote mental health? How can we support families and communities to feel more fulfilled and strive towards overall wellbeing?

It’s important to understand the multi-dimensional nature of mental health. If we look at an individual’s mental health as a spectrum, it ranges from a state of wellbeing to distress, to persistent distress leading to dysfunction and disorders.

Looked at from this perspective, we can see that most of us, at some point throughout our life might drift into feeling distressed and then perhaps move unwittingly towards a state of extreme distress. COVID-19 is a good example.

The changing spectrum of mental health needs care and attention

Global pandemic challenges mental health and more

When the pandemic hit populations globally, the world woke up to a sudden transition that plunged most of us into a state of anxiety and stress. Other factors such as economic difficulties, lack of food, access to health care only accentuated the distress.

While this has highlighted the importance of good mental health, it also woke us up to the fact that mental health is an integral part of all our lives, and if we want to address mental health we have to shift our perspective.

Three-part plan for improving mental health

October 10, 2020 was World Mental Health Day. According to the World Federation for Mental Health, the theme for this year was Mental health for All: Greater investment—Greater Access.

In support of this year’s theme, we can work to increase investment in mental health and access to it in the following ways.

1. | Integrate

First, it is imperative to integrate mental health promotion into other public health programs; be it nutrition, family planning or TB eradication.

2. | Educate + Train

Secondly, mental health promotion should be integrated within education and work-place programs that include healthcare workers.

Here, people can learn social-emotional and resilience skills that help them cope with adversity and prevent movement towards a state of extreme distress and dysfunction.

3. | Draw from within

Finally, it’s important to highlight the reservoir of strengths and resources that people, families, and communities have within themselves to collectively support each other and cope with difficulties.

Helping individuals and communities help themselves

The recent lockdowns during COVID-19 have illuminated many acts of compassion and kindness among people who themselves were in dire need.

Stories abound of how people have shared meager meals with one another, distributed supplies to those in need, found ways to connect with each other over balconies and provide health care even if it meant putting their own lives at risk.

Helping individuals and communities become aware of their individual and collective strengths would go a long way in scaling mental health programs and prevent escalation of mental distress and promote well-being.

Prioritizing mental health for women

To learn more about Gracy Andrew’s participation in a panel titled Maintaining a Resilient State of Mind: Prioritizing Mental Health of Women in the Workforce During Emergencies, from the Women Leaders in Global Health, click here.

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