Early this week, I sat down to write on another key aspect of mental health. But as I was pulling myself out of the Happy New Year GIFs and the tips on new year resolutions that flooded my WhatsApp, I decided to change the topic I wanted to bring up.
Mental health is often spoken about from an illness point of view. And, given the fact that this is such a fresh topic in public discussion and the several challenges mental healthcare is struggling with from the curative aspect, it is only right that more is being written and spoken about on the illness side.
However, it is time we look at mental health equally strongly from the preventive perspective. Putting a difficult year behind us and the start of a very promising year can just be the right time for us to do so. If there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it is to prioritize our mental health.
I would like to look at prevention of mental illness and the promotion of mental wellbeing from three angles—national vision, institutional strategies and individual goals.
The World Health Organization points out that mental health conditions contribute to about 14% of the global burden of diseases. One in five of us will experience a mental health condition in our lifetime. In absolute numbers, this can be staggering for countries such as India. Nations cannot afford to have a curative-only mental healthcare vision and policies. The cost of putting together the service infrastructure and caring for such a large number of the population can be immensely draining on the GDP. Mental health of our people will have a direct impact on most of the Millennium Development Goals that nations have committed themselves to achieve.
Nothing can contribute to the wellbeing of the nation as strongly as the presence of healthy citizens. Changing demographics, an aging population and economic and environmental stressors are putting an increasing number of us at risk of mental health issues. It therefore only seems obvious that countries must have a mental wellbeing vision. Such a vision will help nations promote mental wellbeing among their citizens, identify the at-risk population and possible triggers, and put in place effective preventive measures.
The journey of a mental illness is never as linear as it is in most other health conditions. Mental illness is said to be an invisible condition due to the long time it takes for someone to reach out for professional help. In most cases, its impact on social and economic welfare can be much longer. A strong vision for mental wellbeing of its people that translates into effective and efficient actions on the ground can potentially save the nation significant cost.
It’s time that the employee mental healthcare strategies of organizations put a strong focus on mental wellbeing. Of course, it also makes business sense to do so. According to a Deloitte Canada study of 2019, organizations that have employee mental healthcare programs for three or more years, experience a return on investment of USD2.18 for every dollar spent. More importantly, in the new economy, resilience in business is as much about resilience as an ability among the talent as they are about the economy. Organizations must focus on helping their talent build emotional health to deal with drastic shifts in social lifestyles due to several reasons such as frequent recessions, the pandemic and emerging technologies. As a preventive measure, organizations must also regularly assess work environments of their employees to identify possible triggers for mental health issues.
Finally, none of these strategies and plans will work unless we as individuals resolve to prioritize prevention of mental health issues. Preventive measures are the hardest to take since there are no immediate triggers that wake us up. A lot has been written about the effect of the physical, social and economic environment on our mental health. As most of these environments are under severe pressure, it is only pertinent that we build emotional abilities to deal with the challenges that we are expected to experience in our lifetime. Moreover, given the high cost of mental healthcare, we must understand the economic rationale to actively adopt preventive measures.
Awareness and acceptance could be good first steps, followed by adopting some of the numerous possible disciplines. From picking up early lessons of positive mental health to help our children develop the right skills for emotional resilience, keeping away from risky environments and habits to prepare ourselves emotionally to age well, there are a number of preventive steps that we could take towards our mental wellbeing.
As we slowly emerge from an extremely challenging year that has taught us so much about mental health, this would just be the right time to put our focus on mental wellbeing and redraw our list of resolutions for the new year. When it comes to our mental health, we really need a ‘new’ year.
FundaMental Truth is a series on mental healthcare by Manoj Chandran, Founding CEO of White Swan Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that offers knowledge-led solutions in the area of mental health
FIRST PUBLISHED11.01.2021 | 11:00 AM IST