World Mental Day - October 10th, 2016
Today is October 10th, which means we, the global community, are celebrating our 24th annual World Mental Health day. World Mental Health day was first put on by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) in 1992. This is a day for mental health education, awareness, and advocacy for the entire international community of which we are all a part. Indeed it is also a day, as the World Health Organization says, "for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide."
I’d like to focus less on my work, and more on my general outlook and philosophy on mental health care in society. We’ve got some serious work to do. This year’s theme, ‘Dignity in Mental Health (DIMH): Psychological & Mental Health First Aid for All’, a campaign to eradicate the stigma and taboo that has surrounded mental illness for hundreds of years. Sure, we’ve come a long way since the mentally ill were thought to have demons in their heads, where the ancient medical professionals of the time would perform trepanation interventions, drilling holes into the skulls so the spirits could leave the 'possessed'. Our understanding of mental illness has come far certainly; and we need to go further in education and creating awareness. We all have a role to play in removing the stigma of mental health, and it starts with normalizing it.
The Power of Permission Giving
Imagine for a moment, you’re at your annual physical, and upon completing the examination, the doctor says, "You’ve screened positive for illness x." You’re feeling alarmed at this news, but then the doctors says, “This is quite normal, about 40% of the general population develops illness x in their 30’s.” Chances are you’re likely to feel more optimistic and even open about talking to others about this illness. It's as if you've been given permission to be this way, for the time being. If, on the other hand the doctor had said, “I’m afraid only 1 in 10,000 Americans develops this form of illness x,” you’re bound to worry more, feel less optimistic about your outcomes, and likely not talk about it with anyone. Bottom line, we need to normalize how common mental health disorders are. The more we talk about them, the more social connection and social support those who struggle with mental disorders will have. Furthermore, stigma, discrimination and lack of awareness often prevent people from accessing the support they need.
Why Mental Health Literacy Matters
We as an international community will have a far greater reaching impact by engaging societies at all levels, including domains such as:
Physical Education vs. Mental Health Education
Let’s take a moment to compare how our society treats physical education contrasted with mental health education. Think about P.E. in the public school curriculum. Around the mid 19th century Germany, Sweden, and England influences the development of P.E. in the U.S. In 1866, California becomes the first state to pass a law requiring twice per day exercise periods in public schools 4. In the early 20th century different camps debate over why P.E. is important, “[contributing] to the physical well-being of children, as well as to their social, emotional, and intellectual development” (Thomas Wood and Rosalind Cassidy), versus, “[emphasizing] the development of skills and the maintenance of the body, [being] the primary objective” (Charles McCloy) 4. More recently, C Edwin Bencraft (1999) offered the following benefits of P.E.:
What We Can Learn From World Mental Health Day, and the Action Plan Moving Forward
Speaking of those who know best on this topic, the WFMH recommends we focus on doing the following:
School Based Therapy
Every Bite You Take: Nutrition and Mental Health
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1 World Federation for Mental Health. (2016). Dignity in mental health: Psychological & mental health first aid for all (Report No. 24). Occoquan, VA: World Federation for Mental Health.
2 WHO Global Burden of Disease (2008): 2004 update. Geneva: World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/GBD_report_2004update_full.pdf (accessed Oct. 9, 2016)
3 WHO Mental health and work: Impact, issues, and good practices (2000): 2002 update. Geneva: World Health Organization.
http://www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/712.pdf (accessed Oct. 9, 2016)
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to Your Couples Therapist Blog.
Robin S. Smith is a psychotherapist practicing in Bethesda, MD. Robin created The Couple and Family Clinic Blog to provide useful articles on issues related to mental health as well as articles on local, national, and international news stories. Learn more about Robin on the About Page.