It finally took a pandemic as deadly as COVID-19 to make us focus more on mental well-being, which, notwithstanding the huge misery that the contagion has already caused worldwide, is still a most welcome development.
For far too long, and due to reasons not always clear, we had been turning a blind eye to the issues of mental health and mental well-being.
Despite the World Health Organization (WHO) pointing out that suicide is the “2nd leading cause of death” in the age group of 15-29 and that “people with severe mental health conditions die prematurely – as much as two decades early – due to preventable physical conditions”. Besides, significantly, the global health body, from 1948 till date, continuing to define health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
But that has now changed.
The entry of the novel coronavirus in our lives has resulted in a re-evaluation of the emphasis being accorded to the subject of mental health.
There is growing recognition internationally that mental health issues may affect anyone, at any time, without any advance notice, and things can only get worse if individuals first do not admit to themselves that they have a situation which needs to be addressed, and thereafter take necessary steps in that regard.
We are now seeing ordinary people start to shed their reticence and openly talk about any mental health issues that they may be facing, without apparently worrying about how doing so could affect their standing among family members, in society, and at places of work.
There is also presently a greater consensus emerging among key stakeholders about the need to quickly put in place appropriate mechanisms to address the mental health challenge, including defining the specific roles and responsibilities of key players such as policymakers, businesses, and civil society. It is, thus, not uncommon these days, for instance, to find ‘mental health’ get mentioned at different forums by leaders in the corporate sector and top decision-makers in other segments, which is indicative of how the virus has made us realize more the importance of concentrating on mental well-being.
While these are good signs, I believe that we must ensure that the attention which mental health is currently receiving does not begin to waver once a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is found and all of us can finally breathe a collective sigh of relief on COVID-19.
If that were to happen, it would be unfortunate, because, in the increasingly complex world which we inhabit, mental health issues are a reality that must be faced irrespective of whether there is a threat from a pandemic to deal with.
Each of us can play a part in ensuring that mental health remains one of the top health priorities even after COVID-19 has made a disappearance from our lives.
Three ways through which we may do this immediately spring to mind:
- By acting as spokespeople of the mental health cause in our respective communities
- Helping convince local authorities about the need to make mental health management a key cornerstone of their healthcare policies, and
- By participating in the activities of organizations connected with mental health involved in raising awareness about mental well-being among small and mid-sized employers so that they display greater sensitivity towards employees experiencing mental health issues.
I would like to add a disclaimer here that this is by no means an exhaustive list, and, depending on your expertise, you could always possibly find more and likely better ways through which the mental health cause may benefit through your involvement.
But please do not stay away from the discussion on mental health thinking that it is not your problem. As enlightened members of civil society, it may not reflect well on us if we continue to remain seemingly mute witnesses to mental health issues robbing so many people of their inherent right to become the best versions of themselves.