How has the pandemic affected your or your family’s mental wellbeing?
How do you think we can effectively address the second epidemic we are already facing – a rapidly growing tide of mental health challenges in our society?
What do you believe would make the biggest difference to enhance everyone’s mental wellbeing?
It’s World Mental Health Day on October 10th.
It’s a day to reflect on the changes brought about by Covid-19 and the ongoing challenges for those living with existing mental health conditions, those dealing with grief and loss, social isolation, and the ongoing uncertainty and anxiety for the future.
Mental health issues are expensive to us as individuals, to our families and to the economy. They currently cost the Australian government $12billion a year due to lost productivity and time off from work.
Statistics from the WHO report how pre-COVID close to one billion people were living with a mental health disorder, while 3 million people die every year from harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide.
While it’s heartening that the Australian government has stepped in with increased funding for mental health, the reality is, it will still be insufficient to meet the needs of those seeking help for psychological distress and mood disorders.
Globally it is estimated that 75% of those in low to middle-income brackets with mental, neurological and substance use disorders receive NO treatment.
While it’s not uncommon currently to have to wait for up to three months for an appointment to see a psychologist in Australia, it can be a six-month wait in the UK. Chronic underfunding has meant mental health services were inadequate and delayed long before the arrival of the pandemic. With a doubling in the number of people reporting psychological distress over the last seven months, this is the time to step up to the challenge and do things differently.
Our approach to mental health is outdated and ineffective.
How can we bring about positive change so everyone with a mental health challenge can access the help they need in a timely manner?
Make mental wellbeing the norm.
1. When conversations about mental wellbeing are expected and the norm, it’s easier to open up and have the confidence to share that you are struggling to cope.
As humans we ALL have limits and we can ALL expect to need a helping hand from time to time. It’s far better to get in early so you can recover more quickly. This will also assist in diminishing the stigma of shame and guilt that still prevails about asking for help.
The only person we are letting down by failing to ask for help when we are highly stressed, overwhelmed by anxiety or suffering with depression is us.
2. Make mental wellbeing training universal on every curriculum of every school, tertiary institution and workplace.
This can empower you to stay mentally fit by putting in place those strategies you know keep you emotionally stable, cognitively flexible and readily adaptive to all the disruption brought about by change and those curveballs we experience in our daily lives.
The training doesn’t have to be expensive and the concepts can be easily incorporated into our schedules. The potential is to significantly reduce the future burden of chronic mental and physical health in the community. This is a win-win for all.
3. Increase accessibility to mental health experts.
The existing one-on-one model effectively excludes those unable to afford expert help as well as those who choose not to access or don’t have access to an EAP through their workplace. Group sessions face-to-face or in a virtual setting would allow early intervention with the provision for 1-on-1 appointments determined on a needs basis by a mental health expert. In addition, Telehealth has the potential to facilitate access to assistance for those living in more remote areas.
4. Strengthen the community.
The theme for Mental Health Week 10th to 17th October is Strengthening the Community – Live, Learn, Work, Play. One of the silver linings of the global pandemic has been the growing awareness of the need for strong supportive communities. During lockdown and restricted social interaction, we’ve virtually met neighbours we’ve never known, had conversations with people while out exercising or walking the dog, set up virtual coffee mornings and looked out for those we recognise as being at risk of loneliness, isolation or fear.
The strength of our social networks plays a significant role in helping those who need a hand and reduce the risk of worsening symptoms of anxiety of depression.
5. Use technology wisely.
New technologies to enhance wellbeing and increase willingness to seek help for mental health concerns are now being trialled. Iyarn is an app that allows an individual to quickly do a mental health check-in. It can also be used in a group setting for teams in the workplace.
Shift is another smartphone app being trialled to support the mental health and wellbeing of junior Medical Officers in New South Wales.
It’s time to ditch mental health being seen as a side issue to our overall health and wellbeing. A holistic approach considers the physical, emotional, mental and cognitive factors relevant to what keeps us fit, happy and healthy.
What would you like to see being done differently?
How do you take care of your mental wellbeing?
Do you agree that mental wellbeing is essential because it comes from a place of prevention?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.
If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.