Few days ago, I had a very interesting and animated conversation with the man sharing my life. I was telling him why I care about transforming the approach to neuro, psycho-social and mental health conditions; why I believe it is needed.
As a regular person with no special interest in the matter, he, unsurprisingly, wasn’t aware of many of the facts & data experts would know.
Therefore, forgetting about any emotional and personal history, I undertook to share with him what i learnt about the different dimensions of Mental Health, and why change is of the outmost importance.
Indeed, there are facts, many actual, measured and striking facts, around mental health, which should call for immediate actions from all of those who care about others well-being & social justice; but are instead being largely ignored. Clearly put : today, and since ever, psycho-social and mental health conditions have been kept out of the agendas. This is what my boyfriend couldn’t understand after hearing these facts. But what are they?
Today, and since ever, psycho-social and mental health conditions have been kept out of the agendas.
Before anything, let’s start, like in school, with a couple of definitions. What are mental health and mental illness?
As others, I believe that these terms and concepts cannot easily be defined, and I recommend reading Dan J. Stein, et al., (2010), for an interesting reflection on the topic. To make it simple, we’ll consider the World Health Organisation point of view on the question. And, WHO says that:
“Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
“Mental illness, on the other hand refers to sundering, disability or morbidity due to mental, neurological and substance use disorders, which can arise due to the genetic, biological and psychological make-up of individuals as well as adverse social conditions and environmental factors.”
With this in mind, we understand that mental health is an essential part of each and everyone health and well-being, while mental illnesses are real and serious conditions likely to severely impair the quality of life of those living with them.
Unfortunately, Mental health disorders are frequent occurrences and affect people in all communities across the world. Indeed, it is one out of four people globally who will at some point in their lives be affected by these conditions, with 3% of the population affected by a sever MH condition and 10% affected by a moderous to mild one. The magnitude of the problem is thus enormous, especially because the impact of mental illness goes beyond the sole patient, as it touches families, friends, caregivers and the society as a whole.
“Mental illness and health related issues touch hundreds of millions.”
As a chronic migraine “sufferer” and a multiple time neuro-psy caregiver, there is something I feel really needs to be addressed early on. Even though people can realise Mental illness and health related issues touch hundreds of millions of people, or find themselves confronted to someone living with it, they struggle grasping what it means. Statements like “but it’s not like cancer: one doesn’t die from a mental disorder”, are not rare.
So, let me tell you something people, you’d be surprised.
If it is right to say that being diagnosed with such a conditions isn’t a direct death sentence, people with severe mental health & social disabilities reportedly die 10 to 25 years younger than the general population. To give you an idea, 70 years was the average life expectancy at birth of the global population in 2012, which means that everyone currently on earth, evolving in optimal conditions of life, is expected to go on for an average of 70 years. If you do the maths, and remove the years loss to mental illness from this 70 of life, you then are left with a number: 45. People living with mental illness are likely to be dead by the time they reach 45 to 60 years old. 45 years old! Does it still seem so insignificant?
And not only don’t they live as long, mentally ill people, also do not live as good as mentally healthy do.
It is commonly admitted that the quality of life of MH patients can be impaired. What people often do not know is how severely. According to WHO burden of disease (2012), depression, the best known mental disorder, is the leading cause of disability worldwide in terms of total years lost due to disability. And depression is not an isolated case, all together, mental, neurological and substance use disorders account for nine out of the 20 leading causes of years lived with disability worldwide, which is more than a quarter of all measured disability,1/3 of all disabilities due to health problems. Therefore, besides significantly decreasing the life expectancy of people across the globe, Mental illnesses are significant contributors (10%) to the global burden of disease.
Part of this burden is due to the fact that often, such conditions remain largely undiagnosed and untreated. Most of the people who would benefit from it, do not get the support they require to live a normal life in the community. In the next part, we will discuss why in a world where efficient support & solutions do exist, Mental Health care remains largely unprovided to those who needs it.