The recent times have made us aware about the importance of having good mental health. This includes emotional, psychological and social well-being of an individual.

We are especially focused on taking care of our mental hygiene which impacts all aspects of our life. It affects the way we feel, think and act. It plays a crucial role in the choices we make and the relationships we nurture in our lives. Mental health is important at every stage of our life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.   

Health Psychologists around the world, consider an individual to be ‘healthy’ not in the absence of an illness- rather when an individual feels healthy holistically. This includes having a sound physical and mental health.

Hence, investing in one’s mental well-being is crucial for our happiness and prosperity.

According to a study, individuals suffering from mental illness experience poor physical health outcomes, such as an average life expectancy of 25 years less compared to the rest of population.  A sound mental health is thus vital for an optimal functioning of an individual.

However, despite its importance a vast majority of people do not have access to mental health services. They lack the knowledge and resources required. This brings us to a growing concern called as, ‘Mental Health Equality’

What is Mental Health Equality?

Mental Health Equity or Equality is the right to access quality health care for all populations regardless of the individual’s gender, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation. This includes access to prevention, treatment and recovery services for mental and substance use disorders.  

Sadly, due to the vast discrimination, many individuals are deprived of mental health treatments. Either they are unaware, or treatment is far beyond their reach.

Here’s What Mental Health Equality Currently Looks Like:

  • According to a 2019 study, the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic deepened the already existing disparities in accessing mental health. For example, in United States, the marginalized, commonly oppressed, and residents with lower income found it more challenging to seek treatment following depression. 
  • In low-and-middle-income countries, more than 75% of people suffering from mental disorders were found to receive no treatment.  (Source: World Health Organization)
  • According to a report by Guardian, for 30 million people in Africa’s Ghana, there are only 13 psychiatrists and 3 hospitals. The mentally ill are often found chained and ill-treated due to lack of awareness.
  • The World Bank states that, less than 2% is what countries spend of their health budget on mental health services.
  • According to Centre for Mental Health, in terms of ethnic groups, people with color are the least likely to be recipients of counseling or therapy.

Additionally, the LGBTQ community reported to have experienced stigmas by mental health professionals. They were found to be unsupportive and less likely to meet their needs. A survey conducted for the population, revealed that only 24% respondents accessed mental health services. Source: National LGBT Survey (2018)

Why The Disparity?

There are various barriers that individuals face when accessing mental health. Here are few most common ones:

  • Stigma: Multiple studies have found that the stigma associated with mental illness often prevents people from accessing treatment. Very often, their own beliefs about mental illness can prevent them from acknowledging their illness or seeking treatment. They may also be concerned that the disclosure of a mental health condition can lead to negative perceptions at work. There is also a fear of being avoided or judged by family and friends. Hence, stigma acts as a major barrier preventing access to behavioural health services.
  • Financial Barriers: In many countries, health insurance does not cover the costs of psychotherapies. Additionally, the cost of these therapies could be exorbitant, thus discouraging individuals from seeing a mental health professional.  
  • Lack of Mental Health Professionals: Estimates show that there is a shortage of mental health professionals all around the world.  This shortage is steeper than any other category. In particular, rural areas and underdeveloped nations often have few to no mental health services at all.  If there is a facility available, these service providers have long waiting lists, and patients can suffer for months before getting an appointment. Such a shortage, causes mental health services to be a costly affair, thus discouraging individuals to see a professional.
  • Lack of awareness: This is a major factor that acts as a barrier. Mental illness is hard to recognize, and lack of awareness surrounding it makes it more challenging for people to take action benefitting them. Many societies still hold taboos about mental illnesses. Such an ignorance leads to delay in receiving timely help, which ultimately worsens the conditions, often pushing individuals to depression and suicide.
  • Racial Barriers: Racial/ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities often suffer from poor mental health outcomes due to multiple factors including inaccessibility of high quality mental health care services, cultural stigma surrounding mental health care, discrimination, and overall lack of awareness about mental health.

Reducing mental health disparities, and ultimately achieving mental health equity, requires understanding the wide range of factors that influence health outcomes at multiple social-ecological levels.

Ways to Make Mental Health Services More Accessible

Mental Health Inequities, though deeply rooted in the societies are still avoidable. They arise from social and material inequalities such as stigma, discrimination, and uneven distribution of wealth and resources.   An equal access to mental health services could be achieved through simple efforts such as:

  • Spreading Awareness: Efforts must be made to create more awareness about various mental health related concerns and the importance of treating it. Schools must conduct workshops educating young children, so they are able to identify early signs and seek an intervention. The awareness will help in creating more honest conversations centered to mental health and thus breaking the stigma and apprehensions that individuals hold.
  • Making therapy more affordable:  Finding low cost mental health professionals can be a challenge at first, however there are plenty of resources available. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, so caring for it shouldn’t take a toll on our finances. Self-help therapy apps such as Betterhelp, allows you to connect to a therapist online. Such services are excellent for working individuals or those who do not find a local therapist. Similarly, other free of cost apps such as Calm, and Headspace teach simple techniques like meditation, breathing exercises and relaxation tips which can help individuals with anxiety or panic attacks. These apps allow in creating a daily habit of self-care.  
  • Challenging stigmas: Most people who live with mental illness are blamed for their condition and often shunned by society. As a result, they can be discreet and suffer in silence. They are also called by offensive names. Hence, these stigmas attached with mental concerns must be challenged by talking about more openly. This could be done by educating ourselves and those around us. We must also be conscious of our language and refrain from using mental health adjectives casually.
  • Building communities & support groups: Support groups are designed to bring together people who have undergone similar life experiences such as a loss or an illness. Such groups and communities allow individuals an opportunity to connect, empathize and feel supported. People can share personal experiences and feelings, learn new coping strategies and experience diminished feelings of isolation or loneliness. This is also an excellent way for people to be vocal about their mental health concerns, thus creating a dialogue and the awareness required.  Some examples of support groups are for bereaved adults, divorcees, widows or parents with special need’s children.  

It is safe to say that mental health and physical health are intertwined. We cannot have one, without having the other. Given its importance, a good mental health should be attainable by each of us. Change happens at a personal level, and therefore we must begin by being more accepting, loving and compassionate towards anyone going through mental distress.

Similarly, government and health regulation authorities must strive to create accessible mental health services for its citizens, irrespective of their age, gender, nationality or socio-economic background.

A successful country is ultimately the one which can take pride in healthy, and happy citizens.