Conversations around mental health have entered the mainstream, despite years of misinformation and misrepresentation. The term ‘mental health’ is starting to lose its stigma, although we’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg.
“14.3 per cent of global deaths are due to mental health. That’s a wholly preventable pandemic. Even though it is such a big killer, we don’t even speak about it as a global issue and that in it itself can contribute to stigma, discrimination, human rights violation against people with mental health conditions,” Neil Shah, founder and director of The Stress Management Society, a UK non-profit organisation, tells Vogue Singapore.
Thanks to public figures like Kendall Jenner and Selena Gomez, who recently released her new documentary trailer that chronicles her mental health, annual awareness days, like World Mental Health Day, and collective effort of global charities and campaigns, honest conversations around mental wellbeing are taking the centre stage. They allow people to speak out against shame, not suffer in silence, and get the help they need.
“From the increase in conversations and advocates speaking out about mental health, we have seen a massive increase in individuals reaching out openly to professionals or even peers for support in their mental health struggles, and it is just the beginning. That is a big positive step for the normalcy of seeking mental health support in our everyday lives,” says Theodoric Chew, co-founder and CEO of Intellect, a Singapore-based mental wellness start-up.
In light of World Mental Health Day 2022, Vogue Singapore speaks to leading global health experts about why World Mental Health Day is more important than ever and what we can learn from this year’s theme: “Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority.”
Why your mental health matters more than ever
Ever find yourself comparing your situation with others, or denying, minimising, and even dismissing your own feelings because the news highlights the world’s never-ending stream of problems?
Here’s a fact: the chaos and cruelty we see in the world will continue despite your efforts of carrying the burden on your shoulders. So, if you want the world to be a better place, start by remembering that your feelings are valid.
One in eight of us is affected by mental health issues.
This issue was exacerbated by the pandemic, which caused a significant 25 per cent increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide.
“Our mental health is greatly affected by the world around us. Poverty, economic crises, unemployment, financial insecurity, social isolation, war, bullying, discrimination and more,” says Dr Aiysha Malik, D.Phil., D.Clin.Psych., a mental health specialist for the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland.
Shah indicates that due to current affairs and personal crises, many of us are left feeling helpless and hopeless.
“For a while, these [events] can be overwhelming, they directly impact you. The more you hear about these stories, the more bitter you feel about the world around you. Sadly, a lot of people are losing hope. They are finding themselves in a dark time and to not see the light at the end of the tunnel, for me, is one the most dangerous things that can happen when there are challenges,” says Shah.
Adding: “It is important to use World Mental Health Day as a catalyst to inspire conversations and discussions around why mental health is important and how we can get better at supporting each other rather than waiting for someone to come and fix the issue. To look at what responsibility we can take for ourselves and each other to create the world we want to live in.”
In addition, a call from the community we belong to take responsibility and act on behalf of our welfare to protect our mental wellbeing is a must.
“The world around us has a responsibility to protect our mental health- whether in schools, at work, and in society. If our mental health is not protected in the world around us, there may be a need to reach out for support,” Dr Malik adds.
What can we learn from World Mental Health Day 2022 theme: “Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority”
With one in eight of us is affected by mental health issues, it is not an isolated case and it can affect especially the most vulnerable. It chooses no one. In fact, this issue was exacerbated by the pandemic, which caused a significant 25 per cent increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide.
“The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is a call for mental health to be a global priority for all because it has not been prioritised, and, at worse, is highly stigmatised,” says Dr Malik.
Over the last several years, mental wellbeing has not been a global priority, which means the important issues that we are facing around mental health have become significantly worse.
“In Japan, in October 2020, in one month more people took their lives than died from COVID the whole year of 2022. Yet, the people who took their lives due to suicide weren’t heavily discussed in the headlines in the newspaper, not featured in every news article or every news program.
“What that suggests is that mental health lives haven’t as much relevance in value as COVID lives or lives lost to war. These for me are the most crucial things we need to get better at and take the time to focus on. Wellbeing and mental health should be a priority exactly as it should be,” Shah says.
Suicide was a major public health issue in Japan even before the pandemic but it heightened the risk of poor psychological health in the population when COVID-19 hit.
“The theme is less of a call for individual responsibility for our own mental health but a call to the world around us to take action to protect mental health and ensure people have access to the quality care that they may need. Life can be hard and presents us with problems to navigate. Overcoming these challenges takes collective action from individuals to workplaces to governments,” says Dr Malik.
How to protect your mental wellbeing
Knowing yourself and keeping an eye on your own triggers is quite helpful when creating a plan of action.
“Whether that’s asking for help from someone you trust, engaging in a stress management intervention, being active in spiritual or community activities (if this applies to your lifestyle), spending time on physical activity or making sure you can get enough sleep,” Dr Malik enumerates.
However, we can only do so much on our own and if it has not worked for you, you can always seek help.
“We need a good system of care around us to lend a helping hand when we have exhausted all our options—such as having the opportunity to talk to a health worker about our mental health,” she says.
We spend a huge chunk of our lives working and work-related stress is inevitable. In fact, the recent World Mental Health Report has revealed that 15 per cent of working-age adults experienced a mental disorder.
Dr Malik says: “If we do not act to prevent people from facing adversities in work, then there is little chance that other initiatives for mental health will be successful.”
“Workplaces, in consultation with their worker and representatives, can first assess what are the risks in their workplace which are affecting the worker’s mental health and second design or plan an approach to mitigate, or remove that risk, whether that is enacting a policy (for example one which promotes zero tolerance for bullying and harassment and which enacts a timely way for investigating these issues) or training managers on how to implement measures for managing the workload or time-at-work for their teams.”
Organisations need to go beyond yoga, mindfulness, and meditation sessions. Addressing workers’ individual needs should have been taken into consideration coupled with a plan of action.
Are you having a bad day or something else?
It can sometimes be quite hard to differentiate if someone is having a bad day as opposed to having a chronic mental health struggle or meltdown. As Chew points out: “Everyone has their own triggers and how their mental health struggles manifest on the surface have their own nuances too.”
“One can reach out for help at any time whether the matter is big or small, but if what you’re feeling is particularly prolonged, affecting your quality of life, or you are considering thoughts of self-harm, it is a critical sign to reach out for help,” he says.
Signs you have poor mental health
London-based psychologist Richard Reid says: “There is no easy test that can let someone know if someone suffers from mental illness or if actions and thoughts might be typical behaviours of a person or a result of one.”
“Recognising areas for concern as early as possible often provides more opportunity for support and reduces the likelihood of symptoms becoming more serious,” he warns.
Each illness has its own symptoms, but common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following:
- Excessive worrying or fear and feeling excessively sad or low
- Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
- Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
- Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
- Avoiding friends and social activities
- Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
- Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
- Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)
- Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behaviour, or personality (“lack of insight” or anosognosia)
- Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
- Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
- Thinking about suicide
- Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
- Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite and an intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance
“World Mental Health Day, among many things, is an opportunity to break the stigma and taboo surrounding mental health. It is an opportunity to listen to people with lived experience of mental health conditions, to have a glimpse into the realities of living with a mental health condition, and if one does not have a condition, to then participate in amplifying those stories. If we want to see change happen, we need everyone to continue amplifying how important it is for collective action and investment in mental health,” Dr Malik concludes.
You are not alone. If you are struggling with your mental wellbeing, your GP can recommend you to a therapist or counsellor.
For more stories like this, subscribe to Vogue Singapore.