Thoughts on World Mental Health Day 2020

World Mental Health Day takes place each year on October 10. Created in 1992 by the World Federation for Mental Health, this day seeks to bring awareness to the worldwide mental health crisis, which has been in existence for far longer than I have been alive.

I’m usually not a fan of a commemorative day. 24-hours where countries around the world trot out and celebrate thinly-veiled promises and policies disguised as progress designed to appease the media, but that actually help no one. However, I believe in World Mental Health Day because if only for one day, it provides visibility to the invisible. It raises awareness, helps reduce stigma and promotes inclusion.

This year’s theme is Mental Health for All and, man, do we ALL need it! 2020 has been a real doozy of a year thus far and has robbed many of us of so much. Family members, friends, connection, careers and, of course, mental health. Support services around the world are buckling under the weight of the increased demand and as the situation becomes increasingly bleaker, it is difficult to know where to turn.

In the UK, people have reported an increase in feelings of anxiety and depression, and death from suicide is up exponentially so far this year. Similarly, in the USA, studies have shown an increase in suicidal ideation since the start of the pandemic. In other countries, where mental health services are not as robust, the situation is worrying, as the lack of access means many who need it most are left unsupported.

The WHO reported that while wealthy, Western countries were able to bridge mental healthcare gaps by providing telephonic therapy or other distance-dependent interventions, this was not the same for lower-income countries. This is why global investment in mental health is crucial.

It’s one thing for wealthy countries to roll out tech solutions to help combat the mental healthcare deficit, but what about countries where the majority of people don’t own a smartphone and can’t simply log their mood to get automated support? Or communities where mental health concerns are taboo and those who suffer must do so in silence or face harsh repercussions? We need to stop looking at global mental health solutions through a Western lens. These solutions are not necessarily applicable or accessible globally.

What does mental health for all mean from a global perspective? Firstly, it means recognising that there is not a “one size fits all” solution and that you can’t simply throw money at an issue and hope it will be resolved. A more inclusive approach is required. Having worked in Global Mental Health for a decade, I can tell you where my investment would go.

  1. Grassroots initiatives — stigma is real all over the globe and it prevents people from getting the care they need. By investing in grassroots initiatives, where trusted people in the community are trained with basic mental health first aid skills, it is possible to support those presenting with mental health concerns early — before they may require hospitalisation. This is working within a model of prevention and promoting stigma-reduction. Double win!
  2. Education — You can have the most state-of-the-art technology in the world, but if people are unable to recognise that they need help and how they might access it, it’s useless. Mental health education should be implemented in all secondary schools to support and empower young people to look after their mental health and how and when to get support should they need it.
    By educating young people, this knowledge will filter down through to the older generations as well. It’s a simple, cost-effective solution that could help countless people.
  3. Poverty reduction — It’s not a coincidence that poverty and mental health issues are inextricably linked. This is a real “chicken or the egg” conundrum. I think we can all agree that if those who need the support can’t access it, it’s useless.
    By pricing low-income families out of the care they need or by hoarding all of the mental health services in the large, developed cities, we are actively putting up unnecessary barriers to treatment to the most vulnerable.
    In order to tackle poor mental health, we must tackle the mass inequity in society. It’s not enough to allocate health budget to mental health services while so many live below the poverty line. We must also invest in infrastructure and increase wages to increase quality of life and overall wellbeing.
  4. Increased representation — By promoting positive representations of those with mental health concerns in the media, we increase inclusivity and reduce stigma. We still have a long way to go with this, but things are improving.
    We need our politicians and celebrities to be more open about their personal struggles. We need to see more people willing to discuss mental health and how common it is to suffer from mental health difficulties at some point in our lives. By normalising mental health concerns, we are empowering people to take control of their mental healthcare.
  5. Promotion of free modalities — There are so many ways to improve your mental health that are free. Breathwork, exercise and yoga and improved community connection are just a few of these.
    Medication doesn’t have to be the default response to combatting the mental health crisis.

World Mental Health Day might just be once a year, but the promises made at this time must be honoured. We have to continue to make progress despite how hopeless things might feel right now. We are all deserving of a life free from suffering and we have to commit to working together to achieve this for everyone.

Sadly, I’m not in charge. I’m just a tiny voice amongst millions but if all of us with tiny voices raise them together perhaps someone might listen. If you’re interested in how simple, free modalities like breathwork can help support you in times of stress, please check out my free mini-course.