October is Mental Health Awareness month. But why do we have this?
Mental health is a health issue just like physical health. Yet there has always been a stigma attached to it, we don’t talk about it, we even make jokes about it. Perhaps we just don’t understand it.
Just like we did not understand physical health issues until quite recently. During the previous pandemic, in 1918, doctors did not even know about the existence of viruses. Penicillin was discovered in 1928, but only became common during the Second World War. The first heart transplant was in 1967. These are short timelines for things that have affected humans since we became human.
Mental health issues are among the most common conditions there are. In 2019, the World Health Organisation said one in eight people suffered from it.
During the first year of the pandemic, this figure shot up to one in four people. At the same time treatment was severely disrupted because of isolation, health services being overwhelmed by COVID, and a lack of money.
The entire spectrum of our society was affected, most noticeably school-going children and the elderly.
Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety can be caused by circumstances – social and economic difficulties, crime and violence, the economy, interpersonal problems – or they can occur naturally. These usually refer to a chemical imbalance in the body.
Psychologists have been treating these conditions with therapy since the 1700s, with great strides made in the 20th century. The first effective medications were developed 70 years ago and since then have become so effective that most mental health institutions have closed down. People can live normal lives and function perfectly well in society.
Yet we still stigmatise it and discriminate against it. Mental health challenges are so common, and they are so easy to treat. We all know someone being treated for anxiety or depression, and in any office there will be some people who are as well. But we don’t speak about it, just like most of us don’t discuss our physical ailments.
The purpose of Mental Health Awareness month is precisely that – to make all of us aware of what mental health is and is not. To position it as one of the health issues people have to deal with, like arthritis or high blood pressure. It is a condition. It is treatable. Move on.
This month is not a call for sympathy, it is an appeal for understanding.
Article credit: Philip \’Gelderblom