Opinion Editorial by Dr Arvind Mathur, WHO Representative and UN Resident Coordinator, on the importance of discourse and raising awareness on mental health and suicide prevention.
In recent years, Mental Health has increasingly become a topic broadly, yet vaguely discussed about in our society and still not advocated consistently enough. Mental Health means something different to each person. WHO defines Mental Health as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. The positive dimension of mental health is stressed in WHO's definition of health as contained in our constitution: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."
I personally and firmly believe that; there is no Health without Mental Health.
Each year, WHO has been marking 10th October as World Mental Health Day. This year, the theme focused on Suicide Prevention. Another taboo topic in many societies and all over the world, that needs to be rightly addressed in order to address such preventable tragedies. Globally, every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide. Which means by the time you’ve read the first part of this article, we would’ve lost about two souls to suicide. Two souls that could’ve contributed greatly to our world, two deaths that could’ve been prevented, by all of us.
In addition to these statistics, there are other numbers that prove a great rationale for greater investment in Mental Health. For example, Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, and Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst 15-29-year old’s. People with the most severe mental health conditions die prematurely (as much as two decades early) due to preventable conditions. Suicide affects men and women, of all ages; nearly three times as many men as women die by suicide in high-income countries, in contrast to low- and middle-income countries, where the rate is more equal. Among teenagers aged 15-19 years, suicide is the second leading cause of death among girls and the third leading cause of death in boys. Fortunately for Maldives, such numbers are still low, but we need to be alarmed given the large youth population and perceived incremental stresses of life.
One of the important realizations should be that suicides are preventable and a lot more could be done by taking away the stigma and shame associated with suicide, including responsible reporting of suicide victims by media and people alike. By building life skills among young people that enable them to cope with stresses in their life, and early identification, management and follow up of people at risk of suicide.
It is important for us all to emphasize that the very first step to prevention of any mental health problems is to Talk. Talk to someone you trust. Confide in the ones whom you love. Dedicate your time and provide your full attention to someone who needs your help. Being aware and recognizing the utmost importance of Mental Health and advocating about this subject makes the ordinary person an advocate.
My optimism grows with time, on one side with the interventions that WHO has supported throughout the years. From expansion of Adolescent and Youth clinics in islands, the launch of Mental Health Action Plan, celebration of World Health Day under the theme ‘Depression Let’s Talk’, to development of National Mental Health Policy, Strategic and Operational Plan etc. All these evidence-based advocacy efforts fructified to see the political commitment at the highest level as one witnessed the opening of the much awaited Centre for Mental Health at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital on one side, launch of Mental Health Awareness Program and rolling out of Mental Health Services at primary and secondary level as the Ministry established a Mental Health Unit. Decision to cover the services under National Health Insurance Scheme Aasandha is another positive indication of robust approach that policy makers have adopted in line with Universal Health Coverage principles.
Nothing could have been more satisfying but to see the nationwide celebrations and engagement of people from all walks of life to observe World Mental Health Day; an indication, I believe, of people giving a clear message that they would not let any barrier come in the way of their mental well-being.
This is truly the time to build on the momentum and optimize on the openness of people to talk about mental health - the progress needs to be rapid and we must continue to talk and talk openly, freely and across all walks of life about mental and physical well-being. It’s an opportune time to scale-up investment in mental health at all levels and for promotive to rehabilitative services.
WHO as a credible, trusted and reliable partner reaffirms its support to walk every step of the journey with the people and government of Maldives in their endeavor for a healthier Maldives.
On World Mental Health Day observed on 10th October, WHO, in collaboration with global partners, have launched the 40 seconds of action campaign - to reduce the stigma associated with suicide, help share information on action that we can all take to prevent suicide, and let people who are struggling know they are not alone.
We ask you to take 40 seconds of your life to be an advocate for Mental Health and reach out and talk to someone you trust. To help someone in need.
The stigma and shame surrounding Mental Health can only be scrapped away for good with our voice, action, and collective efforts.
Now is the time to Mind the Mind!