The rising prevalence of mental health conditions in the Caribbean Region is a serious public health concern, and as COVID-19 continues to affect persons across the Region, there is need for urgent action to promote good mental health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
World Mental Health Day, observed annually on 10 October, seeks to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. This year’s theme Mental Health in an Unequal World with the slogan “Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality”, is an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people.
“Lives have changed considerably due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as we are faced with the realities of unemployment, working from home, closure of schools and not being able to socialise as we used to. Over the past year the pandemic has had a major impact on people’s mental health especially healthcare and other frontline workers, children, women, families, homeless, people living alone, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions,” stated Dr. Tamu Davidson, Head of Chronic Diseases and Injury at CARPHA.
In the Americas, depression continues to be the leading mental health disorder, and is twice as frequent in women as in men. Mental and neurological disorders in the elderly, such as Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias, and depression, contribute to the burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Mental disorders can also contribute to unintentional and intentional injury. Patients who are depressed are less likely to take their medicines, and persons with chronic NCDs and disability are more likely to be depressed.
Many mental health conditions can be effectively treated at relatively low cost, yet the gap between people needing care and those with access to care remains substantial. A 2020 survey conducted by the WHO indicated that services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders had been significantly disrupted during the pandemic.
CARPHA supports its Member States through health promotion with a focus on increasing awareness about mental health and strategies to cope with mental illness, targeting the general population, children and adolescents, the elderly, women and other vulnerable populations. Emphasis has been placed on prevention, psychosocial support and coping with mental illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, CARPHA included mental health as a focus of the annual Caribbean Wellness Day. The Agency collaborates with the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, Health Caribbean Coalition to increase awareness about mental health and reduce stigma.
Achieving mental health care a reality for all, calls for a whole of society approach. Civil society, faith-based organisations and private sector and community-based organisations can support and promote mental well-being and prevent mental and substance-related disorders.
- Health professionals are reminded of their duty of care to all persons, whether they have physical and/or mental issues.
- Governments are urged to ensure equitable access to mental health services for all who need it.
- Civil society organisations are encouraged to support for public education and awareness about mental illness.
- The private sector can provide support for mental health services in employment packages and ensure that workplace policies do not discriminate against persons with mental illness.
Most of all, we as individuals need to take time for ourselves. We need to practice healthy living to preserve mental well-being. That includes self-care, healthy eating, physical activity, positive thinking, practicing mindfulness, connecting with friends, family or pets and mindfulness, or taking time to do something we enjoy.
There is no health without mental health. This public health day is an opportunity to empower people to look after their own mental health and provide support to others.
Let’s reach out and support someone with a mental illness .. make it a reality