Are we just ticking a box when it comes to mental health?

On October 10 the world celebrates another mental health day. But it’s useless raising awareness unless this translates into effective action.

As we celebrate yet another mental health day I think it is important for each and every one of us to ask ourselves how we are taking care of our mental health. Are any of our practices different to how we nurtured our mental wellbeing the year before and the one before it?

If the answer to this is “not really”, then we owe it to ourselves to deeply reflect on where we are falling short to address the gap between what we say and what we do. It is useless raising awareness on mental health if this does not translate into effective action.

Having been in the field of mental health for over a decade put me in a privileged position to identify not only the strengths in how mental health is addressed, but also significant gaps. Speaking of strengths, we have been talking more and more about mental health and that is fantastic. People are less reluctant to seek mental health support when necessary. There is more acceptance that mental suffering is real.

Notwithstanding, I still meet people in my practice who would try to ‘solve’ a mental health problem on their own. Here, I will borrow some examples from the healthcare field because I find it helps me explain the concept better.

If you have a cold, you may try and wait it out and see if the symptoms go away on their own. But in the case of a broken arm, no amount of waiting time will make the pain go away, and if it’s not professionally attended to, the functionality of the arm might be severely impaired.

Now let’s go back to mental health. It is being more spoken about. However, for the most part it is addressed as a ticking the box exercise. Usually, we do a campaign on mental health around October 10, write a few articles about it throughout the year, and put it back in the limelight when we learn of a death by suicide.

It is time to change our ways. This is not only a problem that belongs to the person who is immediately affected by it, because no person is immune to difficulties in mental health. It is everyone’s responsibility to talk about mental health and take it seriously.  Practices conducive to mental health are best engaged in consistently.

Mental health is a desirable state, yet how much do we prioritise it? On an individual level, we need to ask ourselves whether we are taking on more than we can chew and ask ourselves what for? What price are we paying for this? Are efforts in alignment with what we prioritise in life?

The priority on mental health should also be reflected in practices held in other contexts we belong to. How much is being done? I would say we are merely scratching the surface.

At times we forget that mental health issues do not disappear the moment you walk through your workplace or when you sit at your desk, or any other role you are meant to fulfil. A person suffering from a mental health problem carries these issues every single minute of the day, but this pain is often missed because the suffering is carried in silence.

If we lose a colleague through suicide, it is not uncommon that we replay moments we spent with that person and cannot but ask ourselves – “but how could I not notice?”. This is likely to leave those who knew the person traumatised and carrying feelings of guilt.

Companies have the responsibility to equip their members of staff in particular their people managers to be skilled to identify signs of mental health issues in their employees.  Here, consistency is key. Just like when you are learning to drive a car, the more one is exposed to the skill the better one becomes at it. Similarly, if we want to see people’s managers being truly able to pinpoint problems related to mental health, consistent training is required. Psychoeducation can bring about change in the way we interact and make it more likely that a mental health problem is addressed early on.

I find that, so far, our culture has adopted a reactive approach to mental health. But why does it need to be so? It is time we adopt a proactive one. It is of great concern that one still links depression with being lazy, or as not being good enough to overcome it on their own. With education comes empathic understanding, but we must understand that things are not always learnt overnight particularly something that is so complex as human thought processes and behaviours, and that is why we need to invest in psychoeducation that is consistent.

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