A couple of years ago, I first realized that I encountered mental health issues. I was under a lot of pressure as a senior student who had a lot on her plate from studying to doing internship, running projects, working on her thesis, and trying to look for jobs after graduating. I would be lying if I were to say that I was not overwhelmed by the pressure of trying to be perfect, to land a good job and to not let down my family’s expectations of me. At one point, I started to questioning why health insurance would only cover physical health and not mental health even though it is common among the global population. This is a small piece of evidence that illustrates how the topic of mental health remains a taboo in society – beyond a priority, or a topic of public discussion despite global efforts to raise awareness on it.

Mental Health is defined as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”[1]. In this sense, mental health is intertwined with people and community welfare, considering that it impacts individual activities, freedom and livelihood. Mental Health problems may range from anger to anxiety and panic attacks, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder also known as OCD, panic attacks, paranoia, personality disorders, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-esteem, self-harm, stress and more depending on the level of its seriousness[2]. The causes of mental health illness may result from an individual’s coping mechanism – their emotional and physical response to events and people around them together with the influence from external factors such as social and cultural norms, economic conditions, and politics.

Looking at the bigger picture of mental health, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 20% of global children and adolescents, and 15% of the elders at the age of 60 and more have been diagnosed with mental health disorder and illnesses[3]. According to the World Health Organization report, one of the most common mental health problems is depression in which individuals may experience emotional up-down, or a state of emotionlessness responsive to life events. More than 264 million of global population have suffered from this issue, causing them to become less productive in works, study, and in a severe condition it contributed to suicide[4]. Annually, an approximate amount of 800,000 people committed suicide, which estimated to take life at a rate of every 40 second[5] [6]. The major age group that has been the victim of this mental problem and committed suicide is identified to be at the range of 15 to 29 years old[7]. Other mental problems such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and dementia severely consumed the wellbeing of 45 million people, 20 million people, and 50 million people around the world. Treatments for mental illness exist. However, more than 70% of the low-income and middle-income states (in EU, it is 50% of the patients) cannot afford to have it treated due to the social stigma against mental health illness, the limited resources, and available experts in those countries. If there were to be attention spared to help these group of people fighting their mental health problem, we might have saved lives of those 800,000 people who committed suicide every year (if not all of them, at least a huge number of the victim).

Amidst the global pandemic, mental health becomes one of the urgent yet underemphasized within the society. In the normal phenomenon, mental health arises from various determinants including childhood, trauma, social isolation, discrimination, poverty, severe stress, and unemployment. However, due to the impacts of disruption in supply-chain, international trade and demands, global economies contracted resulting in job losses, poverty, and inequalities within society, and between states. Since fear, anxiety, and stress are generally the consequences of human response to uncertainty or threat, it inferred that the global pandemic which lasts for around more than a year by now inevitability generates overwhelming stress. This can ignite into mental health illness with people having limited social contact due to lockdown, travel restriction, protection measures that force the global population to stick to work from home, unemployment, online learning, and meetings. While government spending has dominated in healthcare sectors to treat infected case of coronavirus, but it did not cover the mental health treatment costs.

The stigma against mental health is buried within the social context whether it is in Europe and Asia, the problems are just as serious as one another which can be translated into economic loss if not properly handled. Based on data from Swiss Re Group, in major case-studies of Southeast Asia, statistics of mental health were marked at an unexpectedly high rate[8]. Approximately 14% of the population of Singapore, and Malaysia were reported to have suffered from mental health illness[9]. In Europe, on the other hand, the number was estimated to be more than 84 million people with an annual rate of 10 million people increase[10]. WHO in the EU reported the number of victims of depression, or anxiety at the rate 25% of the population in which as a result those diagnosed suffer from disability for almost half of their lives[11]. Accumulated from just the damage from depression and anxiety alone, the damage accounted for $1 trillion globally every year while the figure in Europe amounted for €170 billion every year[12] [13].

Therefore, to put an end to mental health stigma, a global pandemic shall denote the need to heavily invest not just on physical healthcare infrastructure, but also make available mental health facilities, experts, and care services. Discussion on mental health shall be encouraged and facilitated in public policy debates, and normalization of discussion of mental health among youth and adults must be encouraged in order to break the taboo, and misconception of mental health. Lessons on mental health should be included in educational curriculum to raise awareness, and provide possible elementary coping mechanisms before they wish to seek professionals. Imagine if people are able to tell that they are depressed, or somehow they undergo through a phase of mental health; if they can turn to anyone around us without hearing them responding ‘you know it is all in your head. You just overthink. You are such an attention-seeker’; if they can go and receive treatment openly and timely, would they opt to commit suicide? Wouldn’t the world become a brighter and better place for everyone? It is at least better to a certain extent in which people would not lose their family members due to mental health, and they would not have to grieve and resent themselves for not paying attention to their family members. They as well would not fall into the mental health loops just like their loved one.

 

 

[1]WHO. (2018, March 30). Mental Health: Strengthening our response. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response

[2]Mind Organization. (2021). Mental Health Problem Introduction: Types of Mental Health Problems. Retrieved from: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/mental-health-problems-introduction/types-of-mental-health-problems/

[3]WHO. (2021). Mental Health. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/health-topics/mental-health#tab=tab_2

[4]WHO. (2020, January 30). Depression. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression

[5]WHO. (2020, January 30). Depression. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression

[6]Lee, L. H. (2019, October 10). World Mental Health Day: Preventing and Breaking Taboos. Swiss Re Group, Retrieved from: https://www.swissre.com/risk-knowledge/risk-perspectives-blog/world-mental-health-day-preventing-breaking-taboos.html

[7]WHO. (2020, January 30). Depression. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression

[8]Lee, L. H. (2019, October 10). World Mental Health Day: Preventing and Breaking Taboos. Swiss Re Group, Retrieved from: https://www.swissre.com/risk-knowledge/risk-perspectives-blog/world-mental-health-day-preventing-breaking-taboos.html

[9]ibid.

[10]Rios, B. (2018, November 29) Mental Health Issues Cost EU countries more than €600 billion. Euractiv. Retrieved from: https://www.euractiv.com/section/economy-jobs/news/mental-health-issues-cost-eu-countries-more-than-e600-billion/

[11]WHO Regional Office in Europe. (2021). Depression in Europe: Facts and Figures. Retrieved from: https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/mental-health/news/news/2012/10/depression-in-europe/depression-in-europe-facts-and-figures

[12]WHO. (2021). Mental Health. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/health-topics/mental-health#tab=tab_2

[13]WHO Regional Office in Europe. (2021). Depression in Europe: Facts and Figures. Retrieved from: https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/mental-health/news/news/2012/10/depression-in-europe/depression-in-europe-facts-and-figures

 

 

 

 

 

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