Managing mental health

World Mental Health Day 2018 banner by the Ministry of Health.
World Mental Health Day 2018 banner by the Ministry of Health.

Today is World Mental Health Day and it marks a moment with a particular significance 20 months into a pandemic that's brought unusual pressures to bear on people living with depression and other vulnerabilities.

There is growing concern that the impact of the pandemic and its associated restrictions on the mentally ill will resonate far beyond any point at which covid19 is brought under control.

In a message on the issues, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres noted that even in high income countries, 75 per cent of people report that they do not receive adequate treatment.

In low and middle-income countries, more than 75 per cent of people get no treatment at all.

The UN encourages greater investment by governments, who commit an average of two per cent of health budgets to mental health treatment and management.

Warning bells about the need to increase awareness of and to more sensitively manage mental health issues have been rung from the earliest days of pandemic lockdowns.

Dramatically changed lifestyles and workplace expectations have been grinding everyone down since March 2020 and there is no vaccine for the stresses that long months of pandemic living have wrought.

The impact on children, who have been denied more than a year and a half of critical social interaction and developmental engagement with their peers, will be another unwelcome legacy of the pandemic.

In November 2020, National Parent Teacher Association interim president Zena Ramatali warned that "School is a structured, holistic environment that cannot be replicated in the home for an extended period of time."

For many citizens living with mental health issues, there is the double whammy of being vulnerable while shouldering the unfavourable labelling that comes with an open acknowledgement of their illness.

The formal labels of mental health conditions are often used carelessly with derogatory intent and many families are ill-equipped, at the best of times, to manage manifestations of mental illness or to cope with the social consequences of public knowledge of them.

The silver lining of covid19 restrictions has been a wider acknowledgement of these issues, more open discussion about their presence in society and by plunging everyone into constricting circumstances that challenge our own mental health, offered an opportunity to engage in introspection and consider empathy, even if tangentially.

These conversations have also prompted a welcome response from the Government, and in May 2020, the nation's Director of Mental Health, Dr Hazel Othello, announced that a technical working group had been created to respond to the evolving need for psycho-social support.

Perhaps these deliberations will lead to a long overdue national mental health plan that will commit more resources and support more effectively to an underserved community.


"Managing mental health"

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