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Yesterday was “Mental Health Day”, and frankly, it seems the world has taken leave of its senses.
The WHO has rightly declared mental health a universal human right. It reports that globally, about one-in-eight people have mental health conditions. Here in America, the CDC reports that sometimes, the figure may be as high as one-in-five. These figures were before the Covid pandemic that increased Depression and Anxiety by about 25%.
The causes of mental illness have been known since antiquity. They include childhood experiences, chronic medical conditions like cancer and diabetes, biological or chemical imbalances, the use of alcohol and drugs and loneliness/isolation.
Let me highlight a few of these. Childhood experiences include growing up in poverty, in unstable homes and child labour. Yes–the poor suffer more from mental illness! And there is the debate about whether poverty begets mental illnesses or mental illnesses beget poverty.
And then there are the biological and chemical imbalances in our brains, influenced by our genes. Some families suffer more from mental illness than others.
The relationship between chronic illness and mental illness is reciprocal. For instance, those with Mental illness tended to test positive more for covid than those without. Then there is isolation and social stressors. The stress of marching across the Sahara to try and reach Europe, being unemployed, growing up black or in an oppressed community or experiencing poor governance or war or coups- like in the Congo, Ukraine, Syria or Isreal now.
The following are indications of Mental illness:
1: Feeling anxious or worried
2: Emotional outbursts
3: Sleep problems
4:Weight or appetite change
5: Being more quiet or withdrawn
6: Substance abuse
7: Feeling guilty
Mental illness matters a lot. Those with Mental illness, according to the CDC, live ten to 20 years less than others and every year, 14 percent of deaths are related to mental health.
We must build robust health systems and stand for good governance while fighting poverty and discrimination to reduce mental illness. But, ultimately, the key is what we do as individuals.
We must avoid drugs, seek positive experiences and build mutually supportive networks. Reach out to that family member or friend you have not spoken to for the last year. Greet people. Ask how they are doing. Check on your friends and even strangers. I always remember the man who commited suicide and left a note. In the note, he wrote, “I am going to walk to that bridge and jump to my death. If even one person says “Good morning, I won’t do it”. He died because not even one person said “Good Morning “.
Greet someone today. You may save a life.
God bless you and lift you.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy
October 11th, 2023.