The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that close to one billion people in the world are living with a mental health disorder. Even though there are scientific, evidence-based treatments available to treat such conditions, more than 75 per cent people in low and middle-income countries don’t receive any of them.
Despite them being some of the most significant contributors to the burden of care, mental health disorders remain shrouded in stigma. People fear that they will be judged, misunderstood, mocked or discriminated against. In fact, stigma is probably the leading barrier to help-seeking behaviour. This stigma exists because we lack awareness about mental health problems, and because these aren’t spoken about freely and openly.
How often have we taken a day off due to a headache or a fever? How openly are we able to ask our friends for a reference to a doctor treating physical ailments? Can we envisage a time when we’re able to have similar conversations about our mental health as well? To reach that point, what we have to remember is that mental health is an integral part of health, and needs to be understood in the same manner as physical health. And so, mental health disorders are not a sign of personal weakness or something one can just snap out of. Instead, they’re caused due to an interplay of biological, psychological and social factors.
At the same time, mental health is not just about illnesses, but also about well-being. It’s also about our ability to cope with the pressures of everyday life, realize our potential, work in a productive manner and contribute to our community. Think about it, and our mental health impacts practically every aspect of our life.
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We all have emotions, which can at times be pleasant or unpleasant. We all have experiences that shape the way we think and relate with the world. We all go through bad days every once in a while. We all probably also know someone in our circles who may be living with a mental disorder.
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So, it’s time we hit the #UnMute button and start having real conversations around mental health. Talking about how we feel is the first step. Remember that reaching out and asking for help is a sign of strength, not one of weakness. Sharing your experiences with a family, friend, a colleague or a mentor can help not only vent your emotions but also validate your experiences, gain different perspectives, find solutions and feel supported in your journey.
It’s our collective responsibility to be advocates for mental health. We need conversations on mental health in our homes, at schools, with our friends and at the workplace as well. Be sensitive, compassionate and non-judgmental in your conversations. Be mindful of the attitude your language conveys as well. If you see someone around you struggling to cope, don’t hesitate to extend a hand. Reach out and let them know that you’re available to listen. But most of all, remember that our support systems, be it helplines or mental health professionals, help is always available.
Here’s a six-step guide on reaching out
1) Identify changes in your own behaviour, mood, performance and thought process. If anything impacts your overall functionality of life, it’s time to reach out. You could feel zoned out, fatigued, irritable, sleepless, anxious and often give into uncontrolled emotions.
2) Talk to whoever you are close to, be it family, friends or anybody you trust. Share what you are going through.
3) Speak to your family physician and discuss the next steps.
4) Speak to a psychiatrist (near your place as proximity will help you take that first step or opt for an online consult)
5) Keep your family and support systems involved.
6) In case of a crisis, call a helpline and take guidance. Once settled, speak to a mental health expert for further intervention.
All of us have one life and it is our right to make it complete.