World Mental Health Day
October 10th marks World Mental Health Day, an international day dedicated to raising awareness and advocating for mental health around the globe. This day provides an important opportunity to educate the public about mental health issues, provide support to those living with mental illness, fight the stigma associated with mental health problems, and push for policies that ensure access to quality mental health treatment and services.
Established in 1992 by the World Federation for Mental Health and officially recognized by the United Nations, World Mental Health Day has become a vital part of the mental health advocacy calendar.
This year’s theme is “Mental health is a universal human right.” This theme underscores the need to improve knowledge, raise awareness, and drive actions that promote and protect everyone's mental health as a universal human right, especially groups that have been historically underserved.
On this World Mental Health Day, let’s take the time to learn more about the state of mental health globally, the groups most impacted, and what we can do to promote mental health for all.
A man is stressed out during his office work day.
Prevalence of Mental Illness
Mental illness is incredibly common, affecting people across all demographics and walks of life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 1 in 8 people globally live with a mental disorder .
Mental health conditions account for an estimated 7.4% of the world’s disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and range from mild to moderate to severe . Some of the most prevalent mental illnesses worldwide include:
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders, affecting more than 280 million people globally as of 2020, according to WHO estimates .
The symptoms of depression can range from mild to severe and may include feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite, trouble sleeping, low energy, poor concentration, and even suicidal thoughts. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Anxiety disorders, which include conditions like generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders, affect an estimated 284 million people worldwide as of 2019. Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive worrying, nervousness, fear, and avoidance of certain situations.
An estimated 40 million people globally have bipolar disorder according to WHO. Bipolar disorder is marked by extreme shifts in mood and energy levels, cycling between depressive episodes and manic or hypomanic episodes.
The most common eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, impact approximately 3.3 million globally . Eating disorders are serious and often fatal illnesses that are associated with extreme disturbances in eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions.
Around 24 million people around the world live with schizophrenia, a chronic mental disorder characterized by distortions in thinking, perception, emotions, language, sense of self, and behavior . Schizophrenia often first appears in the late teens to mid-twenties.
The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) globally is estimated to be around 1 in 100 children, according to research published in 2020 . ASD refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social communication and interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors.
A woman with Bipolar disorder - Mood disorder characterized by episodes of depression and episodes of mania or hypomania.
Impact of Stigma
One of the most significant barriers to addressing this global mental health burden is the persisting stigma surrounding mental illness. Mental health stigma refers to the negative attitudes, misconceptions, and discrimination directed towards those with mental health conditions.
This stigma results in shame, social rejection, and reluctance to seek help. According to a WHO-led study, in some countries, nearly 90% of people with mental health conditions report facing stigma .
Stigma has serious detrimental effects:
Delayed Diagnosis and Treatment
Due to stigma, individuals are often reluctant to acknowledge symptoms or talk to a healthcare provider. This results in delayed diagnosis and the inability to access evidence-based treatment early on when it can be most effective.
People with mental illness often face mistreatment and discrimination when it comes to housing, employment, healthcare, and education due to stigma. This leaves them marginalized and impedes recovery.
The isolation and shame fueled by stigma can exacerbate mental health symptoms and lead to more severe, complex, and treatment-resistant illnesses over time.
Stigma is a key factor that heightens the risk of suicide in those with mental health conditions.
Stigma negatively affects adherence to treatment. Individuals may avoid taking psychiatric medication or continuing psychotherapy due to stigma or fear of being labeled "crazy."
Mental Health Treatment Options
There are many different treatment options available for mental health conditions. The right treatment depends on the individual, diagnosis, and severity of symptoms. Working closely with a mental health professional can help determine the most effective treatment plan.
Here is an overview of some common treatment approaches for mental illness:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing thinking and behavior patterns that are unhelpful. This short-term, goal-oriented form of talk therapy helps patients modify distorted thinking, manage emotions, and develop coping strategies.
CBT is effective for treating depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, eating disorders, addiction, and more. Traditional CBT sessions last 45-60 minutes and often involve homework assignments.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of CBT originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder. DBT focuses on teaching mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness skills.
Patients attend a skills training group class in addition to individual therapy sessions. DBT aims to help accept oneself while also making positive changes to reduce self-destructive behaviors.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) aims to improve interpersonal functioning and reduce symptoms of depression. IPT helps address issues that play a role in depression such as grief, role disputes, role transitions, and interpersonal deficits.
The therapist pays close attention to the patient’s communication style and social relationships to identify problem areas. Weekly sessions last 45-60 minutes over 3-4 months.
Psychodynamic therapy, influenced by psychoanalytic theory, focuses on how unconscious processes, early-life experiences, and internal conflicts impact current emotions and behaviors.
The goal is increased self-awareness, self-reflection, and insight through exploring past experiences and the client-therapist relationship. The therapy utilizes free association and transference while avoiding confrontation. Sessions take place 1-2 times per week over a period of months or years.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) aims to foster psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and behavior committed to personal values. ACT focuses on accepting negative thoughts and feelings rather than struggling to change or eliminate them.
Therapists use metaphors and experiential exercises during weekly 45-60 minute sessions spanning 2-4 months.
Populations Most Affected
While mental illness impacts people across all populations, certain groups shoulder a disproportionate burden when it comes to mental health problems. On World Mental Health Day, it’s important we bring awareness to those most affected so we can better address treatment gaps.
Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14 . Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents . Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for 15-19 year-olds . Yet the mental health needs of youth are often unrecognized and undertreated.
In many countries, those from racial/ethnic minority backgrounds have less access to mental healthcare and a higher burden of mental illness due to factors like discrimination and socioeconomic disadvantages . For example, research shows that in the U.S., Black Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population .
LGBTQ individuals are at an elevated risk of mental health issues like depression and suicide due to minority stress factors including prejudice, stigma, harassment, abuse, and more . One study found rates of depression and anxiety are up to three times higher in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations .
Refugees and Displaced Persons
There are record numbers of refugees and displaced persons due to conflict, persecution, and disaster. These groups face mental trauma yet often lack access to care. One meta-analysis found refugees are about ten times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder than age-matched general populations .
Individuals in rural areas often lack access to mental healthcare services which tend to be concentrated in urban settings. Research shows people in rural communities experience higher mental illness than those in urban areas .
Incarcerated populations exhibit a higher prevalence of various mental illnesses compared to the general public. Still, mental healthcare in detention facilities is frequently inadequate. A WHO review found that in some countries, over 90% of prisoners have a mental disorder .
Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic are facing immense mental strain and trauma. Studies reveal high rates of anxiety, depression, and insomnia among this essential workforce .
Barriers to Care Globally
On top of stigma, there are various systemic and structural barriers that prevent people worldwide from getting the mental health treatment they need. Key obstacles include:
Mental Health Investment Gap
Many countries direct minimal resources towards mental healthcare, with government spending on mental health often less than 2% of the total health budget . Overall global investment in mental health is insufficient.
Shortage of Providers
Low- and middle-income countries often suffer from extreme shortages of mental health professionals, like psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors. On average, low-income countries have less than 2 mental health workers per 100,000 people, compared to high-income countries which average over 70 workers .
Lack of Integration into General Healthcare
Too often, mental health services are separated from general healthcare. This makes care less accessible. Integrating mental health into primary and community care settings would enable improved diagnosis and monitoring.
Gaps in Early Intervention
A lack of early intervention programs for emerging mental health issues in childhood and adolescence results in more severe and complex illnesses down the line. Early intervention can alter the trajectory when done right.
Insufficient Policy Prioritization
Mental healthcare is historically deprioritized on policy agendas and overlooked by governments. Policies and legislation targeting mental health funding, awareness, and quality are vital to expanding access.
What We Can Do
Progress has been made in global mental health, but immense work remains to be done to ensure mental healthcare for all. On World Mental Health Day, everyone can take small steps to move us in the right direction:
Educate Yourself and Others
Learning about mental health and sharing facts with your community helps replace myths and misconceptions with compassion and understanding. Start conversations.
Reach out to loved ones who are struggling. Let them know you care and help connect them to support and resources when needed. Fight stigma through understanding.
Advocate for Policies
Get involved with organizations working to influence policy and legislation around mental healthcare funding and access. Contact local leaders and share your concerns.
Promote Early Intervention
Raise awareness of programs that provide mental health services to youth, which can improve outcomes when delivered early on. Volunteer or donate to support these programs.
Support Vulnerable Groups
Look for ways to support minority and marginalized groups in getting culturally competent and affordable mental healthcare. Donate to nonprofits filling these gaps.
Learn About Lived Experiences
Read, listen to, or watch first-person accounts of living with mental illness to grow your empathy, compassion, and motivation to fight stigma.
Take Care of Yourself
We all have mental health that deserves attention. On this day, take time for self-care, reflect on your well-being, and reach out for help if you need it.
World Mental Health Day provides just one opportunity per year to come together around the urgent work of providing mental health for all. But our commitment to ending stigma, raising awareness, advocating for change, and supporting those in need must continue year-round.
By educating ourselves and speaking up, we can make progress. Together, our voices and actions can drive global change for mental health.
Where Can I Find Helpful Mental Health Resources?
There are many different sources of help and resources available for people with mental health issues, depending on the individual's needs and circumstances.
Some options include:
- Primary care providers: a person's primary care provider, such as a family doctor or general practitioner, can provide general information about mental health conditions and refer individuals to specialists as needed.
- Mental health professionals: These include psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists who can provide a diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing support for mental health issues. They can be found in hospitals, clinics, community health centers, and private practice.
- Support groups: Support groups provide a safe and supportive environment where individuals can connect with others who are going through similar experiences. They can be found in hospitals, clinics, community centers, and online.
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): Many employers offer EAP programs that provide confidential counseling and support services for employees and their families.
- Hotlines: There are various helplines and hotlines that provide confidential and anonymous support, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- @ The NAMI Helpline can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., ET.
Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text “Helpline” to 62640, or email at email@example.com
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and The Samaritans@ 988 or 877-870-4673 Call or text 24/7,
- Online resources: There are many online resources available that provide information and support for mental health issues, including websites and apps that provide self-help tools and information.
- Community-based organizations: Local organizations such as churches, synagogues, mosques, and community centers may offer support groups, counseling, and other services.
It's important to remember that seeking help is a sign of strength and not weakness. It's important to find the right fit for you and don't hesitate to try different resources if one does not work for you.
What Are The Best Online Mental Health Resources?
Here are a few reputable online resources for mental health:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)- provides education, support, and advocacy for individuals and families affected by mental illness.https://nami.org/Home
- Mental Health America- a national organization that provides information and resources on mental health and wellness. https://mhanational.org/
- Psychology Today- a directory of therapists and counselors, as well as articles and information on mental health topics. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us
- American Psychological Association (APA)- the largest professional organization of psychologists in the United States, with resources on mental health and well-being. https://www.apa.org/
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)- a government agency that conducts and supports research on mental health and provides information and resources on mental health disorders. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/
- Crisis Text Line- a confidential and free text message service for individuals in crisis. https://www.crisistextline.org/
Please note that these resources provide general information and support and it's important to consult a professional if you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition and seeking treatment.
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