People tend to worry a lot about our health. We go periodically to medical controls , we take pills if something hurts and we go to the doctor when we are sick but… what about our mental health?
The World Health Organization defines Mental Health as “a state of well-being in which the individual is aware of his or her own abilities, can face the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to the community “. Statistically one out of every 4 people will suffer mental health problems throughout their life, which is a really high rate, taking into account the care provided in public health systems. It is perhaps the lack of psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and social workers that are some of the main obstacles that prevent offering treatment and care in low and middle income countries. Low-income countries have an average of 0.05 psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants.
It is estimated that around 20% of children and adolescents in the world have disorders or mental problems. Depression is the biggest cause of mental health illness among young people. Improving social skills, ability to solve problems and self-confidence can help prevent some mental health problems and even today most schools do not support the self-knowledge of individuals or the basic interpersonal and soft skills to have an adult satisfactory life. Considering these data, it should not be surprising that suicide is the second cause of death among youngsters 15-29 years old. Each year more than 800,000 people commit suicide and there are indications that for every adult who commits suicide there are more than 20 who try.
There is a great variety of mental disorders, each of them with different manifestations. In general, they are characterized by a combination of disturbances of thought, perception, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others. Depression is a frequent mental disorder and one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. It affects more than 300 million people worldwide (especially women). The patient with depression loses the ability to enjoy, self-esteem and interest in things. Jennifer from Colombia (depression ex patient) explained for the BBC “The solution was to seek psychological help, take refuge in my family, play sports, read and doing activities, I began to know and interact with more people because you shut yourself and the abyss is made much larger”. Mike suffered a severe depression and explains that “apart from everything that involves the disease, there is little understanding and understanding of people’s illness towards the depressed person”.
We will agree that even in the XXI century depression and mental problems are still taboos. There is a great stigmatization and ignorance regarding mental illnesses both for society and for the patients themselves. There are people who suffer from these problems and still refuse to go to specialists denying their emotional symptoms. Where does this rejection come from? From my point of view, this is like that because especially media tend to demonize mental illnesses, paying attention only when they are part of negative news. “The suspect was taking antidepressants” or “The murderer was bipolar” are habitual holders in the newspapers and news programs, which encourage misinformation and harmful stereotypes about the sick. Nobody would consider it relevant to highlight that the protagonist of the news suffered from pneumonia or took analgesics. With this type of descriptions filling the public imagination, it is normal that most people who suffer from these disorders prefer to keep them secret.
There is still a long way to go in the treatment and approach of these diseases. Encouraging information to avoid stigmatization, changes the way to address them in health systems or promote their social acceptance are just some of the steps to start. All to remember once again that mental illnesses are as disease as physical diseases and, therefore, must be spoken, studied, treated and supported in the same way.
Ana Fernandez Hernandez