‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’ is the theme set by the World Federation for Mental Health for World Mental Health Day, which falls on Oct 10 this year.
The overall objective has always been to increase awareness of mental health issues around the world and to get more support for efforts related to mental health which has always been a major issue even during the pre-Covid-19 pandemic.
It is estimated that about a billion people live with mental disorders and that three million die every year from alcohol abuse.
Even more alarming is the information on some mental health websites that one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. This indicates that mental health is also an issue on a ‘pandemic scale’.
However, to compound the problem, mental health is one of the most neglected areas of public health.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its prolonged duration around the world, it has had a major impact on people’s mental health worldwide and further necessitates the need for more meaningful support from the community.
It has been reported that during the World Health Assembly in May 2021, governments from around the world recognised the need to scale up quality mental health services at all levels.
This year’s theme seeks to highlight that access to mental health services remains unequal.
The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) states that between 75 and 95 percent of people with mental disorders in low and middle-income countries are not able to access mental health services at all, including the fact that even in high-income countries access is not much better.
The issues due to lack of investment in this area of public health are compounded by other issues such as social stigma, discrimination, and abuses of human rights of people with mental health conditions.
The perceived stigma attached to mental health issues plays a big role in people seeking help. This is precisely why all the various awareness programmes are important and necessary to break down the barriers.
Just a few days ago, on Sept 10, awareness of suicide prevention, ‘World Suicide Prevention Day’ was observed. It was themed ‘Creating Hope Through Action’ and rightly advocated that suicide is preventable and prevention should be everybody’s business.
Currently in Malaysia, attempted suicide is criminalised. This is not exactly a helpful situation. A person who has attempted suicide can be charged up to RM3,000 fine and be imprisoned for up to six months.
The distressed person needs help and rehabilitation and not punishment and further stigmatisation by the authorities.
It is important that our elected representatives make persistent and sincere efforts to decriminalise suicide attempts and instead support solutions to help the distressed person.
Outreach programmes and efforts by health authorities and mental health-related associations play an important role to fill some of the gaps in the services provisions.
In Sarawak, assistance (other than from the health authorities) can be sought from the Mental Health Association of Sarawak and can be accessed via https://mhasarawak.com/. It has branches in Kuching, Sibu and Miri.
On their resource-rich website, they mention that mental health problems don’t just appear out of the blue.
They state that there are early warning signs that are common indicators that something isn’t right such as excessive worry or fear, constant mood swings, social isolation, not taking care of oneself and feeling hopeless
They also provide useful guides to help people in crisis. These include staying calm, listening without making judgements, avoiding confrontation, asking them what would help them, and more. Do visit their website.
Most importantly, please realise everyone, everywhere can participate in this year’s campaign. As individuals, we can take concrete actions in support of our own mental health, and to support friends and family members who are struggling.
If you are an employer, please put programmes in place for employee wellness.
Recognise mental health as an issue just as you would any other health issue.
Do make mental health your business and also help to take action to remove the perceived stigma attached to it. Give hope to those who need help.
The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.