In recent years the global mental health crisis has finally started to take center stage and more people than ever are now aware of the importance of looking after their mental health and the services available to them if they are struggling. In 2019 there were more mental health awareness events hosted than ever before and the wave of mental health activism doesn’t seem to be stopping with 2020 lined up to be the year that mental health finally gets the recognition it deserves. But what’s currently being done doesn’t seem to be making the drop that it needs to in the mental health ocean, so what can we do to make sure that 2020 is the yeat for mental health?
What is the problem?
It is estimated that 1 in 5 people globally suffers from a mental disorder at any given time with depression and anxiety ranking as the two most prevalent mental health disorders. Although mental illness has no gender bias statistics show that women are more likely to suffer from a mental illness than men and both education and employment have been found to be intrinsically linked with the prevalence of mental disorders, though of course, mental illness can strike anyone regardless of their employment or education status. Living with a mental disorder can be debilitating taking a serious toll on the quality of an individual’s life which in some cases can be too much to bear leading to attempts of suicide. Every year approximately 800,000 people choose to take their own life, with many more attempting suicide but ultimately being unsuccessful. Suicide and suicide attempts can have devastating effects on not only the individual whose life is in question but also their friends, families, colleagues and peers and no one should feel that suicide is their only way out from mental illness. So what is being done?
What is currently being done?
In recent years the world has come a long way in recognizing the prevalence of mental illnesses and has begun to break down the stigma surrounding speaking out about it. Some of the things that have been put in place to improve mental health awareness include:
- Awareness days
Awareness days such as Mental Health Awareness Week, Time To Talk, Self Injury Awareness Day, World Bipolar Day and World Suicide Prevention Day to name but a few, have helped to raise the profile of mental health issues around the world whilst encouraging individuals who suffer from mental illnesses to speak out and get the help they need. With the help of social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter these awareness days are now able to reach more people than ever, spanning oceans and getting into the heart of homes to reach those most at need. Awareness days have also provided charities with a valuable means to gain funding and donations, contributing to life-saving mental health research and the funding of important charitable mental health services.
Alongside awareness days, some schools are now electing to teach their pupils about their mental health in an attempt to break down barriers and remove stigma in the early stages of childhood development. Children face some of their most difficult challenges in the school environment from bullying to exams and understanding their mental health, how these challenges may make them feel and who they can turn to for help can help many of them to navigate their problems and steer clear of more serious mental health issues.
- Coverage by the media
The media has also had a big part to play in breaking down mental health barriers with shows such as Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why making controversial issues such as suicide, rape and depression mainstream. TV presenters and celebrities have also begun doing their part, sharing their own mental health journeys and promoting mental health charities and awareness days to their far-reaching audiences.
- Online counseling
Not so long ago the only way to speak to a professional about your mental health was in person or at best over the telephone which led to many people avoiding accessing their local mental health services. Now, thanks to the internet, a new age of online counseling is available enabling more people to access mental health services whenever and wherever they need them, even if they do not feel comfortable sitting down with someone in person. One such online service is Better Help, offering free online therapy to those that need it over the internet.
The last few years have also seen the introduction of new Extreme Risk Protection Orders in the USA designed to prevent a mental health crisis from turning into a tragedy. An Extreme Risk Protection Order, or ERPO for short, enables family members or law enforcement agents to ask the court for permission to temporarily remove an individual’s access to firearms if they are thought to be likely to either cause harm to themselves or others. The ERPO laws have the potential to save many lives in countries where firearms are legally carried especially in states such as Oregon where over 83% of deaths by gunshot are suicide. Removing an at-risk individual’s access to firearms can help stop them from acting impulsively in their time of need.
What more could be done to help?
Although the chatter around mental health has grown significantly in recent years mental health statistics have failed to dramatically improve and in some countries, statistics have even continued to rise. This lack of improvement shows that yet more still needs to be done to support people who suffer from mental illnesses and to prevent mental illnesses from occurring in individuals in the first place. If 2020 is to be the year for mental health then here are some areas that need to be focused on.
- Access to mental health services in developing countries
A lot has been done in recent years to give those with the internet better access to mental health services but this does nothing to help the millions of people across developing or third world countries who do not have access to technology or the internet. For these people, mental health issues can still be isolating resulting in higher suicide rates To help those without the internet gain better access to mental health services there needs to be a greater prevalence of mental health drop-in centers and people on the ground to offer mental health support.
- Wider education in schools
Despite the proven importance of providing early mental health education to children many countries, states and schools still choose not to teach pupils about mental health issues, mental health services, and coping techniques leaving them vulnerable in a very challenging part of their lives. For 2020 to be the year for mental health we need to see that mental health is spoken about in every school and at every age group, giving the next generation the tools they need to not only tackle their current challenges but those they may face in later life.
- Education in adults
Although providing education to the next generation is vital for improving future mental health statistics we also need to educate the adult population on the importance of open mental health communication in an attempt to help them break down some of the stigmas that they have encountered over the years and to come forth about their own mental health challenges. Although the media is doing a lot to make mental health a more approachable subject there are still more ways that it can be incorporated into daily life, making mental health as easy to talk about as having a common cold.
- A greater focus on mental health in the workplace
The workplace and the challenges people face at work are some of the biggest causes of workplace stress and mental health problems. To combat this, employers need to take mental health more seriously providing their employees with the tools they need to look after their own mental health whilst also being more understanding that in high pressured jobs employees may need a time out to focus on themselves. Mental health needs to be seen on the same level as physical health and treated with the same respect by employers and employees need to understand the pressures that their careers can put on their mental health and how best to combat this.
Continued removal of stigma
Despite all the work that has been done to remove the stigma surrounding mental health a significant amount of work still remains. As mental health issues are often not immediately visible they can easily be swept under the carpet, labeled as falsities or disregarded and sadly these age-old ways of thinking still remain in parts of society across the globe. More work needs to be done for mental health to be treated with the same respect as physical health which will enable people to speak up about how they are feeling and gain access to the services they need. For this to happen we must all continue to speak about mental health, to support mental health awareness charities and events and to educate the next generation on the importance of their own mental health.