A big part of promoting mental wellbeing is smashing the taboos of emotional expression and mental health issues.
Given that we’re all making new year’s resolutions, let’s resolve to make 2018 the year we start to overcome those taboos and take real action to promote global mental health programmes and awareness.
Growing up, I had a friend who was also a close neighbour. We would regularly spend time at each other’s residences as youthful friends tend to do. At one point during our friendship there was something of a gap that I didn’t really understand until I was older. One day, I remember my mum had to explain to me that I couldn’t see my friend for a while due to issues within their family. It wasn’t until later that mother clarified to me that my friend’s dad took his own life.
Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to feel at the time. The concept of suicide was wholly foreign to me but one thing that sticks in my mind is not necessarily how I felt, but rather how my friend felt when I visited him next. I remember it being awkward to some extent; he wasn’t his usual charismatic and competitive self. He was rather quiet and indifferent on the surface instead. I remember him (seemingly at random) bursting into tears over the event that I had still at that point struggled to comprehend because of my youthful ignorance. Although I may not have understood his father’s situation, I felt I did understand his. It was a feeling of intense grief, sorrow, pain, and confusion.
Looking back on it, I realise now what my friend’s father was going through, and that depression and suicide don’t just have effects on people personally but can affect people communally through a ripple effect. It affected me personally in that one of my best friends became emotionally distant as a result. I can’t even begin to imagine how it affected his mother or other people close to his father. It’s because of situations like these that we need to treat mental health like the serious topic that it is and better promote mental wellbeing in our society.
One of the problems we have right now is that in so many places we don’t really address depression, stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues at an early age like we do physical health issues. Issues that we took no time in developing inoculations and other measures against. Admittedly, mental health issues are something we have only recently come to begin to understand. I would call on us to take a proactive approach and begin addressing it now so that nobody must struggle or their life for lack of healthy mental status.
According to The World Health Organization suicide was the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-29 in 2015, and each year, around 800,000 people die by suicide globally. This figure does not take in to account the number of suicide attempts which is believed to be much higher. In the United States there has been a steady increase in the rate of suicide among varying age groups since approximately 2005.
The problems that lead to suicide can’t simply be swept away by telling people to "get over it", to "man up and deal with it", or that "suicide is the coward’s way out". We need to let young people know (and know early) that it’s okay to get help and talk about how they feel. We need, as a global society, to teach young people how build support networks for themselves and ways of managing their stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
Better equipping people to maintain their mental wellbeing would better protect society as a whole against the effects of these issues and potentially help to improve attitudes towards them.
Ultimately, better understanding of mental health could even have positive economic impacts. According to Mental Health America, “depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, following only family crisis and stress”. Imagine for a moment if people understood how to deal with mental issues in the workplace and as a result people were happier and more productive, as a University of Warwick study suggests.
With that in mind, not only does it become clear that spreading awareness and increasing availability of mental health services is the right thing to do, it also just plain makes sense. Going forward, I would encourage individuals, companies, and governments to make promoting mental wellbeing one of their new year’s resolutions so that we can build a better and happier world for everyone. Let’s work to make mental wellbeing a norm instead of a struggle for this year and all the years to follow.
Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide please reach out and talk to someone right away.