Saturday is Mental Health Day

This Saturday marks the annual World Mental Health Day, and this year focuses on ‘Primary Care (general practice), enhancing treatment and promoting mental health’.

The aim is to make the issue of mental illness a global priority.

Mental illness does not discriminate across social class, age or culture, so even though we might not often hear about it, there are many people in Cayman who have a mental illness and those who are living with someone with a mental health disorder.

The World Health Organisation estimates that major depression will shortly become the second leading cause of disability worldwide, and out of the 450 million people who have a mental health disorder, fewer than half receive the care they need.

In 1948, when the WHO was founded, health was defined as, ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

Mental health is therefore an integral part of this definition and more than simply an absence of mental disorders. This was expanded upon by the WHO which stated; ‘Mental health can be conceptualised as a state of well-being in which the individual realises 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.’

In 2001, the WHO estimated that one in four will at some point in our lives have a mental health problem.

There is more than just a personal cost to having a mental health problem, there’s also an economic one. British economist Lord Layard in 2006, together with the Sainsbury Centre published a report to assert that, due to the higher sickness rates and loss of working days and reduced financial contribution to the economy, mental health the results in the loss of output calculable to 25 billion pounds per year; that’s over 32 billion Caymanian dollars!

Most of us can relate to a period when we’ve felt sad, depressed, or anxious and confused, and maybe this has interfered with our ability to go about our daily lives. Perhaps you sought help and consulted a counsellor, or doctor about how you were feeling?

However, our health as a whole can be affected if the situation continues or worsens, and that is when we need help and professional intervention.

Just as our physical health can fluctuate, so can our mental health, and the two are closely interlinked. People with physical health problem can lack energy, feel sad, find concentrating difficult, want to isolate themselves and perhaps los sleep and appetite.

Most people can relate to feeling despondent or relate to a period when they were particularly stressed, and usually this passes.

However, in a period of continued stress we have a tendency to keep going, and that’s when our body and mind give us warning signs that all is not well.

Sadly, given enough stress, we all have a tipping point where our mental health will be affected, and it seems that today’s increasing pace of life is contributing towards the growing incidence of mental health disorders.

Despite the prevalence of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or bi-polar disorders, mental health still carries a stigma, a source of shame and misunderstanding.

By not coming forward, individuals and families are not seeking help through their doctor to access the specialist services they need; the individual can suffer needlessly, and the burden on the family, the spouse and their relationship is enormous.

People we might perceive as local ‘characters’, with odd or flamboyant behaviour and who are possibly subject to ridicule, might actually be ill, but isn’t it easier to ignore it and say, ‘Oh, that’s just so and so,’ rather than address the possibility that the person may have a treatable condition?

Our own mental health is, of course, incredibly personal and private to us. Although we may worry that discussing how we feel is a sign of weakness or inadequacy, in fact it takes strength and courage to admit to not coping, to feeling emotionally unstable or to having symptoms that we cannot see.

Professionals such as doctors, psychologists and counsellors are experienced and trained to listen to your concerns, and bound by their code of ethics to respect your confidentiality.

Often this initial visit and disclosure to admit that something is wrong is to your General Practitioner and is the most difficult. However, people often describe a great sense of relief at having ‘got it out in the open’.

Rather than seeing mental health as a separate field, this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign is urging mental health to be an integral part of practice, and part of health care service.

Let’s break down the barriers, talk to someone, don’t keep it to yourself, value your own mental health and look after it.