Mental health is essential to our overall well-being and as important as physical health. When we feel mentally well, we can work productively, enjoy our free time, and contribute actively to our communities. Tomorrow is commemorated as World Mental Health Day to put a spotlight on what mental illness is and how it can affect large portions of society.
Today, more than ever before mental health has come front and centre of people’s conscious. Because of the pandemic that’s hit our world, there are many, due to various reasons, who have reached the end of their teather, mentally and physically. Physical symptoms are very visible and treatable, but what about mental symptoms? Mental illnesses are the silent killers of our century and is one of the most neglected areas of public health.
Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. And now, billions of people around the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having a further impact on people’s mental health. Yet, relatively few people around the world have access to quality mental health services. In low- and middle-income countries, more than 75% of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders receive no treatment for their condition at all. Furthermore, stigma, discrimination, punitive legislation and human rights abuses are still widespread.
The limited access to quality, affordable mental health care in the world before the pandemic, and particularly in humanitarian emergencies and conflict settings, has been further diminished due to COVID-19 as the pandemic has disrupted health services around the world. Primary causes have been infection and the risk of infection in long-stay facilities such as care homes and psychiatric institutions; barriers to meeting people face-to-face; mental health staff being infected with the virus; and the closing of mental health facilities to convert them into care facilities for people with COVID-19. The current worldwide pandemic arose against an already dire mental health landscape that saw mental health conditions on the rise across the globe. About 450 million people live with mental disorders that are among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide according to the WHO World Health Report of 2001. One person in every four will be affected by a mental disorder at some stage of their lives while mental, neurological and substance use disorders exact a high toll on health outcomes, accounting for 13% of the total global burden of disease according to a WHO report from 2012. The World Health Organization in 2018 stated that every 40 seconds someone dies by suicide. Annually, this represents over 800 000 people that die by suicide, which is more than people dying by war and homicide put together. For every suicide, there are many more people who attempt suicide every year. A prior suicide attempt is the single most important risk factor for suicide in the general population. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds while 79% of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families, communities and entire countries and has long-lasting and devastating effects on the people left behind.
The World Economic Forum in 2018 noted that mental health disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030 if a collective failure to respond is not addressed. We are faced with an international mental health crisis and have been forewarned over the past two decades of this imminent catastrophe. This has been compounded by the need for psychosocial support and mental health interventions during this trying time. This bleak picture necessitates that we ensure that mental health is prioritised now more than ever before.
So this year’s World Mental Health Day’s message is a call for the world to come together and begin to readdress this inequality in the treatment of mental health. According to the World Health Organisation, unless the world makes a serious commitment to scale up investments in mental health now, the health, social and economic consequences will be far-reaching.
Countries are estimated to spend, on an average, only around 2% of their total healthcare budgets on mental health and international development assistance for mental health has never exceeded 1% of all development assistance for health. This is despite the fact that for every US$ 1 invested in scaled-up treatment for common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, there is a return of US$ 5 in improved health and productivity.
Because of the global pandemic, this year’s World Mental Health Day event will be online and the WHO will host a global online advocacy event on mental health. You can click on WHO’s social media pages to follow the event.
If you or someone you know are stressed and need resources to keep mentally healthy and reduce stress, here’s a link where you can find many resources to help you. In cases of mental distress, the first step is to talk to someone you trust. If you feel you need it, seek help from a professional.