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Why mental health is increasingly important for individuals and communities

mental health

Mental health encompasses an individual’s emotional and psychological well-being, determining their ability to function in daily life. Without proper treatment and support, mental illness can be disabling and stifle personal growth.

Mental illnesses can affect people of all ages, races and economic statuses. They can be caused by a variety of factors, including medical conditions, childhood experiences and ongoing stress or trauma.

1. Mental health is a basic human right

Mental health is a state of emotional well-being, good behavioral adjustment and relative freedom from anxiety and disabling symptoms. It determines how people respond to stress, manage their relationships and deal with daily tasks.

Poor mental health is linked to a number of problems, including drug and alcohol use, incarceration and low life expectancy. It can also lead to physical health issues, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Many people with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, struggle to get treatment. This is partly because of stigma, which erodes confidence that mental illness is real and treatable. It also affects access to treatment and other services, such as supportive community services and peer support groups.

Mental health treatment usually involves psychosocial therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, along with medication management. These therapies can help people learn to change unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors and develop more healthy coping skills.

2. Mental health is a social issue

Those with mental illness are at higher risk of losing employment, experiencing domestic violence, substance abuse and suicide. They also incur high costs to society, including reliance on social welfare programs and homelessness.

It is important to understand the underlying factors that lead to poor mental health. This includes understanding the complex interplay between a person’s environment, relationships and personal experience. For example, some people may develop mental health problems as a result of traumatic life events such as bereavement and separation, severe trauma from natural disasters or war, living on the margins of society and a lack of small social networks.

Healthcare organizations can help educate their communities on what good mental health looks like and where to go for services. They can also work on building trust within their communities through outreach and community education. For instance, some Black communities still distrust the medical community due to injustices such as the unethical Tuskegee experiment and the use of Henrietta Lacks’ cancer cells without her consent.

3. Mental health is a medical issue

A mental illness is a health condition that involves changes in emotions, thinking or behavior and causes distress or problems functioning in work, social or family activities. It can also interfere with a person’s physical well-being.

Many factors can contribute to the development of a mental illness, including genetics, environment, lifestyle and trauma. Other factors include brain chemistry and structure, stressors in life and medications.

Mental illnesses can be treated using psychotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, interpersonal therapy, support groups and various medicines such as antidepressants, mood stabilisers, anxiolytics and antipsychotics. However, access to treatment is limited and stigmas and negative perceptions can discourage people from seeking help. People from marginalized communities often face barriers such as lack of insurance or employment, cultural beliefs and limitations to the availability of mental health professionals in their community. Having a supportive network, healthy eating and sleeping habits, regular exercise, meaningful paid or volunteer activities and social connections can help improve a person’s mental health.

4. Mental health is a legal issue

The quality of mental health affects one’s legal status and ability to contract, transfer or participate in a legal proceeding. Poor mental health results in a loss of productivity, which negatively impacts financial security and can contribute to homelessness.

People need access to adequate, affordable, culturally and linguistically competent care. This requires the presence of more diverse mental health professionals and an elimination of discriminatory policies that limit their access to care.

People with mental illness should have access to psychiatric advanced directives, which allow them to designate in writing while competent what treatment they would prefer to receive should their decision-making capacity be impaired. Determinations of incompetence should never be based on moral, social, economic or political beliefs and values, racial and cultural origins, religion or ancestry, or lack thereof.

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