What is World Mental Health Day?
World mental health day will be celebrated on the 10th of October. The celebration started in 1994, with the aim of prioritising and focusing on the important aspects of public mental health. Every year, there is a theme. This year’s theme is “Mental Health in and Unequal World”. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many global health, social, economic, and educational crises, and inequalities. Mental health issues are felt in every part of the world, though how they are approached varies vastly. In our current unequal world, richer countries continue to become richer while poorer counties continue to struggle. The pandemic only increased this gap, polarising the world and accentuating existing inequalities. This unequal world sees individuals lacking access to appropriate mental health treatment due to the environment or country they were born into.
The pandemic highlighted inequalities in mental health care
The pandemic caused focus and attention to divert to primarily physical health, with mental health taking a toll. Countrywide lockdowns, social distancing, and stress have had a serious impact on mental health globally. This impact was felt by everyone, with closures to educational institutes and workplaces forcing everyone to remain at home. Older people and those with underlying conditions, seen as high-risk individuals for coronavirus, were asked to remain indoors with little contact to the outside world for months on end. Domestic Violence increased during the pandemic, with Women’s Aid reporting a rise in calls of 43%. Few escaped feelings of anxiety and depression. However, the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental illnesses increased, due to reduced and diverted services due to the COVID-19 crisis. This, combined with the severe stress of the pandemic, caused mental health relapses, or precipitated mental health issues within vulnerable populations. This unequal world has widened the gap between individuals with and without access to adequate mental health services.
Inequalities in health care provision have also been highlighted for people with learning disabilities. While these inequalities have been evident for decades, little has been done to rectify them. The pandemic emphasised mental health issues that many people with learning disabilities face, along with a societal lack of understanding of their needs. People with learning disabilities faced reduced access to vital care along with access to valued activities and day centres being cut off. This led to increased loneliness and isolation during lockdowns, leading to acute, long-lasting effects on mental health and well-being. With the general population relying on Zoom calls and social media to stay connected, isolation was exacerbated in people with learning disabilities as they are less likely to have access to technology, suffering digital exclusion.
How can we address these issues in an unequal world?
Within communities, a safe space should be created for people to discuss their mental health issues and concerns. Structural inequalities and societal factors that contribute to poor mental health should be challenged. Funding for mental health services should be increased to create a system that is preventative rather than reactive. Children and young people should be taught about mental health in the same way they are taught about their physical bodies. Individuals should be provided with the emotional tools to express themselves when they are struggling and to help others do the same. Within workplaces, information and training on mental health should be provided along with check-ins and support.
Check out more information about World Mental Health Day and events on the WHO website. Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality!