MOVING FROM REACTIVE TO PROACTIVE MENTAL HEALTH POLICIES
“Despite their tragic nature and adverse effects on mental health, emergencies have shown to be opportunities to build sustainable mental health systems for all people in need.”
Now, more than ever, there is a pressing need for a comprehensive and proactive mental health policy creation. Some of the pre-existing numbers are as follows- close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, this means we lose someone to suicide every 40 seconds. Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Globally there is less than 1 mental health professional for every 10,000 people. Human rights violations against people with severe mental health conditions are widespread in all countries of the world.
Twisting the knife, experts of World Health Organisation (WHO) have predicted a mental health crisis. “Psychological distress in populations is widespread. Many people are distressed due to the immediate health impacts of the virus and the consequences of physical isolation. Many are afraid of infection, dying, and losing family members. Individuals have been physically distanced from loved ones and peers. Millions of people are facing economic turmoil having lost or being at risk of losing their income and livelihoods. Frequent misinformation and rumours about the virus and deep uncertainty about the future are common sources of distress. A long-term upsurge in the number and severity of mental health problems is likely.” An increase in suicide rates have been predicted by mental health researchers across the world . Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) is not going to go light on these pre-existing numbers.
People’s distress is understandable given the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives. During the COVID-19 emergency, people are afraid of infection, dying, and losing family members. Not surprisingly, higher-than-usual levels of symptoms of depression and anxiety have been recorded in various countries.
WHO’s report on “COVID-19 and the Need for Action on Mental Health” elucidates recommendations to minimize consequence:
- Apply a whole-of-society approach to promote, protect and care for mental health
- Ensure widespread availability of emergency mental health and psychosocial support
- Support recovery from covid-19 by building mental health services for the future
Apart from these recommendations from the WHO, it is strongly advised that nations incorporate mental health in their disaster management plans, legislations on vulnerable groups, and incorporate mental health in all sectors of the government and encourage state-holders such as Civil Societies and Private Sector to keep in mind mental health; as an important topic to address (in line with the World Health Organization’s “Health in All Policy” approach).
Right now, it is imperative member states take up damage control as their priority, as no one was already prepared for this (despite multiple warnings). However, it is equally or more important to learn from this. We, as humans, survived by adapting. We experience, we learn, we adapt. Maybe that is why, “emergencies have shown to be opportunities to build sustainable mental health systems for all people in need”.
How many suicides before we take suicide prevention action? How many persons with depression before we have accessible mental health services? How common do mental illnesses have to be for us to treat it with the same valour as a physical illness?
How many pandemics before are equipped to handle the mental health crisis that comes with it? How much do we, as mankind, need to go through before the policies across the world have been reactive in nature rather than proactive?
There is a wave of suicide incoming but it is not too late to learn, it is not too late to implement proactive policies starting from reducing the mental health professionals to people ratio, making it accessible, including mental health services in the insurance package. Unfortunately, in a lot of countries, the first step is recognising it as an issue and funding basic research.
A common saying that goes around is “I did not realise the importance of mental health until I had to go through or witness mental illness.” Maybe this is where the problem is, the ability, or rather the lack of it, to empathise and foresee. That trait is what acts as a budding ground for creation of a proactive policy in any situation. Empathy and foresight, the two pillars one should consider before creating a policy. Address the current issues but also blocking the path to futuristic issues.
May this emergency be an opportunity to proactively build sustainable mental health systems for all people in need.