In simple words, mental health does not only reflect presence and absence of a mental disorder or disease. It determines whether an individual is in any kind of mental turmoil or whether s/he is in correct state of mind, and is such a factor that influences both physical health and the entire functionality of a person.
This is such an important issue that October 10 is designated as World Mental Health Day, which was first initiated in 1992 by the World Federation for Mental Health, to create and spread awareness through myriad activities.
But, how well are we actually acquainted with the importance of mental health?
A few statistics will help answer this question. The WHO estimates that each year, approximately one million people die from suicide (which is roughly one death every 40 seconds), and 264 million people are affected by clinical depression annually.
Both of these signify one thing — how poorly mental health is regarded and how well it is ignored.
We pay the maximum attention to our physical health, visit doctors regularly, go for regular check-ups, etc. But our mental health stays unattended and forgotten. Most importantly, we fail to address it with the care and attention it requires.
Looking at the Bangladeshi context, the situation is worse.
The awareness on mental health is so poor that the topic is sort of a taboo. A person of poor mental health is scared to share with others and keep it all in, for fear of being misjudged or shamed.
In our society, a poor mental condition or depression is often regarded as just a 'phase' or an excuse.
To make matters worse, there is severe lack of experts who can help victims to overcome their poor state of mind. Psychotherapy or mental counselling seem to be way off our league and inaccessible. Finding a psychotherapist or mental counsellor is not even close to how easily one can find other specialists like dentists, gastroenterologists, etc.
Such ignorance is what aggravates conditions and eventually starts taking heavy toll on physical health or in more severe cases, lead people to take some very bad decisions from which there is often no coming back.
It is high time we
Spread Awareness — teach people what mental health is and educate them that it does exist!
All institutions must have mental counselling units — students, especially high school and university students, are a very vulnerable group and there should be availability of accessible experts who can help them overcome this, while maintaining absolute confidentiality. Workplaces should also have such facilities.
All hospitals must have mental health departments — just like hospitals have different specialised departments, there should be a completely separate mental health unit with the best, skilled psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and counsellors.
Be willing to listen to others — at times, all one needs is somebody who will listen. The best possible treatment is as simple as giving someone company and trying to understand.
More people must be encouraged to pursue higher education in subjects related to mental health, so that adequate experts do not become a limiting factor.
By Faiza Khondokar