Sharing Hope with Others this Holiday Season

iFred indiegogo (1)

#GivingTuesday, a global event held each year, inspires us to give back to others and provides a day to show support for the causes that are dear to our hearts.  To share our own appreciation, iFred decided to try something new and created a way to “crowd fund” our crowd funding campaign.  We have included organizations that we fully support and wanted to share their incredible programs all dedicated to making a difference by helping others through research, providing treatment and services, and education.

We believe that by supporting one another and working together we can create a momentum and have a great impact in the field of mental health and in our own everyday lives.

Every person has the power to make a difference in the life of someone else whether it be a child, a teen, a veteran, or anyone who needs help and support.  We are so glad to highlight the amazing work being done by each of them.  You may join us in our efforts by sharing and donating to the campaign at Working Together to End the Stigma of Depression.

2014 Campaign Participants

 

Our mission is to empower teens to fall in love with themselves, communicate more effectively, and make integrity-based decisions.

Motivating the Teen Spirit programs teach teens how to better understand who they are and their full potential.  Our workshops produce profound shifts in participants, resulting in more responsible mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors.

 IMAlive is the world’s first virtual crisis center. It is the world’s first crisis center where 100% of the volunteers are trained in crisis intervention. In the first year since the launch IMAlive has helped thousands of people in crisis.

The IMAlive Network is currently made possible through the support of the PostSecret community. PostSecret is an ongoing community mail art project, created by Frank Warren, in which people mail their secrets anonymously on a homemade postcard.

In 2010, the Kristin Brooks Hope Center partnered with To Write Love on Her Arms, the QPR Institute and PostSecret to launch IMAlive.

Since 1998, The Kristin Brooks Hope Center, founders of 1-800-SUICIDE, have connected more than 7 million calls and chats from people in crisis and are the pioneers behind the IMAlive Network.

The United Nations is in the process of developing the 2015 Post Millennium Development Goals. WE NEED YOUR HELP TO BE SURE MENTAL HEALTH IS INCLUDED. You may join in our efforts within just a few easy steps. Please follow this link to learn more about how you can make an impact on this vitally important global issue and visit Fundamental SDG to be added to the list of supporters. There is no #health without #mentalhealth. 

 

Military Family Lifestyle Charitable Foundation, (MFLCF) provides our military members and their families the dignity and respect owed them by our Nation for their commitment and selfless service in preserving the freedoms we all enjoy. MFLCF accomplishes this task by generating revenue through fundraising events and programs that help support the financial, physical, and emotional needs of military members and their families.

MFLCF also help those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress, by supporting a treatment called Chicago Block (“CB” aka Stellate Ganglion Block).  CB is a fast,  inexpensive and safe neck injection, which has been FDA approved for decades (for other uses).  To date, over 600 patients have been treated around the US, with a greater than 70% success rate.  CB is the future of helping those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress.

Schools for Hope is a project developed by iFred targeting 5th grade students designed specifically to teach HOPE.  We do this through a research based curriculum of lessons, stories and activities which explore the concrete actions one can take to create their own hopeful attitude.

A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests that 1 in 9  children  attempt suicide prior to graduating high school with 40% of those in  grade school.  Hopelessness  is a primary symptom of depression and leading  predictor of suicide, making it a threat to  students around the world.  Brilliant research supports that HOPE is a teachable skill.  Help us #teachhope so we can help these students become their most vital and hopeful selves.

Gratitude for Health

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, there will inevitably be a lot of talk about thankfulness and appreciation of life and all they have to offer. Aside from the goodness of gratitude on a personal, social, and at times economic level, rarely do we talk about the healing power of #gratitude. This Thanksgiving and each day forward, let’s focus on thankfulness and gratitude as a tool we can use to help each of us feel better from the inside out.

Living in a world where individuals across cultures are mired with stress from every direction, the very idea of existing with a sound mind and body is fast becoming a distant dream for many. In fact, an estimated 90 percent of all doctor visits are for stress-related aliments and today’s biggest health challenges are cardiovascular disease, mental disorders, cancer, diabetes, and obesity — all conditions that are often linked to living in a state of constant stress (Yakel, 2014).

However, evidence now shows that if we lived each day as though it were Thanksgiving, then, the major causes of stress and imbalance in life would not be allowed to spiral out of our control. Actually, the idea of ‘practicing gratitude’ is gaining traction in the world as an effective means to tackle stress and its negative effects like #depression, #anxiety and others. “Changing worry to gratitude dramatically affects the way our body responds to stress,”Yakel discusses, drawing on a recent research finding.

To further quote Yakel’s article, The Healing Power of Gratitude, he states,Robert Emmons, Ph.D., and professor at the University of California, Davis, has written the first major scientific study on gratitude, its causes, and potential impact on human health. In his work entitled Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Dr. Emmons concluded that ‘grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and the practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness’.”

Gratitude-Schools for Hope Program

Students list what they are grateful for on classroom whiteboard as part of Schools for Hope curriculum.

Undoubtedly, an ability to morph worry and despair into gratitude will breed #hope as well. Many articles which hone in on the power of gratitude in healing, inform us that focusing on what one has, as opposed to what one doesn’t have, is the key to gratitude. This may indeed also be the key to planting seeds of hope;  in essence, it requires one to be able to place focus on the positive over the negative.  One of the tools we teach in our Schools for Hope program is the importance of gratitude and how it aids in our mental health.  Here are some helpful suggestions and ways a person may develop and express gratitude.

  • Writing in a gratitude journal
  • Thanking at least one person a day
  • Spending one minute a day thinking about and/or listing all of the things in life for which you are thankful.

Of course, each person will have their own way of understanding and practicing gratitude, but it is central to remember that it does have the power to heal and if we can be grateful, then we’re likely to be happier, which means we will naturally be healthier as well. As such, the relevance of gratitude then in cases of #depression and #anxiety also cannot be overlooked. The way in which to addresses these illnesses too is rooted in the perpetuation of a sense of positive energy and #hopefulness. So this Thanksgiving, let’s not just #givethanks, but accept and internalize the healing power of gratitude!

 

A new blog by Bidushi Dhungel 

Teaching Hope: A Powerful Lesson

IMG_0958iFred’s recent project, Schools for Hope, launched this fall with fifth graders in the Chicagoland area. The curriculum aims to teach hope to students as a result of the disheartening statistic suggesting that one out of nine students attempt suicide before graduating high school, with forty percent of those being in grade school (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2011).iFred learned that research suggests that hope is a teachable skill and created the program with the intention of instructing each and every ten year old around the world useful tools for finding and maintaining hope.

Hopelessness is the number one symptom of depression and leading predictor to suicide (Association of Physicians, 2004) and suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is an issue that must receive our attention and action.

Our society has created a stigma surrounding mental illness and as a result individuals become isolated, feel ashamed, and do not seek treatment. This is no different with our children. It is evident we must educate on the importance of caring for our minds as we do for our bodies, and by doing so, we will encourage new generations to embrace mental health, provide people with the support and care that is currently lacking, and lead individuals to effective treatment.

According to the World Health Organization, prevention programs have been shown to reduce depression including school-based programs focused on enhancing cognitive, problem-solving, and social skills of children and adolescents. The Schools for Hope curriculum is designed to provide children with the tools to always find hope and promote the importance of caring for an individual’s emotional well-being.

It is important and necessary to understand the research, statistics, and learn about what we can do to create change and improve on in mental health education. However, after having the opportunity to observe firsthand the discussions that formulated in the classroom, I must add that the true gift and lesson was also given by the children. Hearing their thoughts, ideas, and insight on the importance of hope, was nothing short of inspiring, heartwarming, and a reminder of the impression we can make on young open minds.

By giving them hope, we empower new generations to enact change for the better. Scholastic agrees, and recently released an article written by teens in their Choices Magazine, educating teens on depression and offering treatment and support options. Editor Eva Rosenfield stated, “The stigma surrounding depression makes people feel like they can’t talk about it openly-or at all.  And in turn, these people are not getting the help they need.”

We can make a difference and save lives. Let us listen to the voices of our children and bring them a world where they always have love, support, compassion, and HOPE.

#teachhope #sharehope

A new article written by Penny Tate

Community care in mental health

#communitycare

#communitymentalhealth

#globalinnovations2014

If ever there was a need for innovation in mental health, it is now. Perhaps that is why we see growing global commitment to develop, evaluate, and scale up promotion, prevention and treatment innovations for mental disorders around the world. Under that premise, the idea of #communitycare in mental health is also gaining momentum. After centuries of the institutionalization of those who suffer from mental health problems, #communitycare in mental health is a refreshing change in the right direction, based on the notion that mental health problems can be dealt with at the community level. In fact, in many ways, the work that iFred does, with projects such as Schools for Hope and Fields for Hope, are also based on the fundamental belief of #communitycare in mental health.

MH innovation

A few months ago, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with support from the Grand Challenge Canada, the Mental Health Innovation Network was created comprising of a global community of mental health innovators: researchers, practitioners, policy-makers, service user advocates. The central aim of this network is to share innovative resources and ideas to promote mental health and improve the lives of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders. Fundamentally, the network promotes the idea of #communitycare interventions by enabling learning, building partnerships, synthesizing and disseminating knowledge and crucially, by leveraging resources. There are other major initiatives as well like Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health, the World Innovation Summit on Health 2013 (WISH) and the Movement for Global Mental Health which champion the idea of the #communitycare model of intervention.

In February this year, an article appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, called Transforming Lives, Enhancing Communities – Innovations in Global Mental Health, which highlights not only the need for innovation in global mental health at the community level, but the potential that exists for #collaborativecare and #communitymentalhealth. The article highlights that “despite the robust evidence testifying to the effectiveness of a range of pharmacologic, psychological, and social interventions that can transform lives and enhance communities, the majority of the world’s population has no access to these interventions.” Further, the authors, Vikram Patel and Shekhar Saxena, show that the human rights abuses faced by those who suffer from mental health problems are the worst of modern times. Yet the resource allocation for global mental health remains staggeringly low.

They point to new and innovative measures to tackle the global mental health crisis, in which community care is at the heart of all interventions. In fact, through the Mental Health Innovation Network, these up and coming innovative interventions which can be scaled-up, are being chronicled and discussed and made available for public access. Among some of these innovative interventions, we see the appearance of prevention programs targeted toward youth such as iFred’s Schools for Hope program.

According to the authors of a report drafted (upon which the article is based) in the wake of the World Innovation Summit on Health, on mental health, “at the heart of these innovations lies the health care delivery model of integrated collaborative care. Collaborative care must incorporate an active role for patients and their families and must integrate mental health care with social and economic interventions.”

The authors go on to argue that such care models must focus on the detection and treatment of mental disorders as early in the course of life as possible, since most mental disorders begin before adulthood. They say that “mental health care should be delivered in diverse settings; indeed, most care would be expected to occur outside traditional specialist delivery venues — for instance, in schools, primary health care facilities, the workplace, and patients’ homes.” This is why the focus on #communitymentalhealth is so vital, and also a wonderful example of the importance of iFred’s work in implementing innovative measures to tackle what is a truly global crisis.

A new blog written by Bidushi Dhungel

Health and Hope Can Prevent Suicide

SuicidePrevention#stopsuicide #globalcrisis #hope #suicideprevention

Every 40 seconds, an individual life is lost to suicide. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls it a #globalcrisis and estimates that the global suicide figure reaches almost one million every year. In every corner of the world, the number of people taking their own life is increasing. It is a known fact that suicidal thoughts are usually linked to mental disorders and the feeling of helplessness. Experts say that the expression of hopelessness in conjunction with a mental disorder — such as depression — represents a very dangerous warning sign.

September is Suicide Prevention Month. We must continue to shed light on the importance of talking about this link between mental health, hopelessness and suicide; and develop and discuss innovative ways to #stopsuicide and #preventsuicide globally.

Fundamentally, hopelessness is a feeling that life’s conditions can’t improve and that there is simply no solution to a problem. For many, that means that dying by suicide would indeed be better than living. But the fact is that most people who feel hopeless have depression, and untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide. In fact, numerous studies have shown that feelings of hopelessness, in conjunction with a mental disorder, can lead to suicide.

At the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, two separate studies were conducted– one which tracked close to 200 psychiatric outpatients deemed to be at risk for suicide, and another which tracked about 168 hospitalized psychiatric patients deemed to be at risk for suicide – both found that significantly more suicides occurred in the group of individuals who exhibited the highest levels of hopelessness. Researcher Jager- Hyman stated, “To prevent suicides, therapists would benefit from directly targeting patients’ thoughts of hopelessness in clinical interventions.”

What is often left out of public access, and often even advocacy, is that there is indeed #hope and #suicideprevention is possible. In fact, effective treatment of mental disorders, most often depression, can eliminate or substantially reduce feelings of hopelessness, and as a result, reduce the occurrence of suicide. Depression is highly treatable and the vast majority of people who receive treatment get better.

And yet, suicide rates are increasing globally. This means that this #globalcrisis persists because we are failing to educate on treatment and instill hope in the lives of the millions of people who are lost each year to suicide. Not only are we failing to educate and ensure access to healthcare and treatment for various mental illnesses, but we are also failing in providing hope to the millions of people who feel isolated and alone—to the extent that they choose death over life.

If suicide is to be prevented, we need to address the treatment gap in mental health globally and also stress the importance of promoting mental health and well-being throughout life. It is known that global suicide rates are highest in people aged 70 years and above. But suicide also is amongst our youth. Suicide is already the second leading cause of death in 15 to 29 year-olds globally.

A study by Professor Vikram Patel at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine shows that by promoting access to health care services, mental health education and addressing the social determinants of mental disorders, up to 80 percent of mental illness and risk to suicidal factors can be addressed amongst those under 29 years of age. This percentage does not even account for the health interventions put into place later in life should serious mental illnesses develop. Therefore, the evidence supports we must care for mental health at every stage of life.

It is in this spirit that the WHO has published its most recent report entitled, “Preventing suicide: A global imperative”, in conjunction with this year’s International Suicide Prevention Day. The WHO report claims that suicide is largely preventable. WHO recommends that “countries involve a range of government departments in developing a comprehensive coordinated response. High-level commitment is needed not just within the health sector, but also within education, employment, social welfare and judicial departments”. In summary, a multi-sectoral approach which seeks to address the healthcare concerns linked to suicide, alongside a rigorous social intervention programme which seeks to #teachhope, is the best strategy for reducing the fast-growing rates of suicide globally.

The good news is that in the WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, WHO Member States have committed themselves to work toward the global target of reducing suicide rate in countries by 10% by 2020. Putting in place a new global advocacy strategy that examines and seeks to address suicide as a systemic health and social crisis will indeed give our nations and people #hope.

A new blog written by Bidushi Dhungel

Take Global Action Today for World Suicide Prevention Day – #FundamentalSDG

No Health Without Mental Health

Photo Credit: MHaPP-UCT

The International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred) announces today, World Suicide Prevention Day, it joins to support the #FundaMentalSDG initiative to advocate adding clear, measurable mental health targets to the United Nations’ Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals about to be negotiated by the UN member states following the UN High-level Stocktaking Event on the Post-2015 Development Agenda in New York on 11 – 12 September 2014. The initiative takes up on the Preventing Suicide, A Global Imperative report, which was publicly released by the World Health Organization (WHO) last week at a mental health leaders and advocates gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, just a year after the WHO launched implementation discussions of the Global Mental Health Action Plan adopted by the United Nations 66th assembly.  Ifred asks you to take action by joining the global movement at http://www.fundamentalsdg.org/act-now.html.

According to the report by WHO, suicide is preventable, mental health disorders are treatable, and yet because we don’t significantly address it we lose over 800,000 lives annually, it is the second leading cause of death globally for youth ages 15-29, and is estimated to cost the United States alone over 100 billion dollars every year. iFred invites other organizations to support #FundaMentalSDG to join in the effort, asking the United Nations to include a specific mental health target and two indicators in this critical post-millennium agenda.

FundaMentalSDG (www.fundamentalsdg.org) needs your help and is asking you to join in solidarity for mental health on an issue we all must support.  Mental health is not covered in the 2015 Post Millennium Development Goals, and as we all know there really can be no sustainable development unless we include mental health and its inclusion impacts all of our organizations work.  There is a very important meeting this week discussing these goals, so please act quickly and join in this unified global coalition to advocate positive change.

Below are action steps for your organization and please pass / share as the more voices, the better:

  1. Send a letter on your organization’s letterhead in support of this initiative to leaders in the United Nations by downloading the template here:  http://www.fundamentalsdg.org/act-now.html.
  2. Show your support on our website: http://www.fundamentalsdg.org/show-your-support.html and / or end an e-mail to fundamentalsdg@gmail.com letting us know your organization is on board.
  3. Like the Facebook page, share with friends and family at www.facebook.com/fundamentalsdg.
  4. Tweet: “We must include mental health in United Nations Post Millennium Development Goals.  There is no #health without #mentalhealth @FundamentalSDG @UN #FundaMentalSDG  (note – if on September 10th, add #WSPD).”
  5. Send out your own organization’s release declaring your support of the initiative.

Kathryn Goetzke, Founder of iFred, is a strong supporter and encourages others to get on board. “Suicide is preventable, and depression is treatable. iFred stands in solidarity with #FundaMentalSDG, in support of the 450 million around the world needing mental health treatment today. There is no sustainable development without both mental and physical health, so we ask the United Nations to recognize this, to add relevant language in the new post-millennium goals, and for other organizations around the world to join us and unite for this global movement for mental health”.

To support the initiative, visit www.fundamentalsdg.org/show-your-support and take action today.

For more information, see www.fundamentalsdg.org, www.facebook.com/fundamentalsdg, and twitter.com/FundaMentalSDG and be sure to use hashtag #FundaMentalSDG in communication efforts.

 

 

Bridging the Mental Health Treatment Gap Must Be a Global Priority

 

 equal_treatment_closing_the_gap

Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) organizes the mhGAP Forum as part of its annual partnership event on mental health. The mhGAP Forum is an informal group of Member States, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, including UN agencies, international development agencies, philanthropic foundations, research institutes, universities and WHO collaborating centres, for coordinated action on the implementation of mhGAP. The mhGap is WHO’s flagship publication aimed at scaling up care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders.

 

WHO’s first global report on suicide prevention will be launched at this year’s annual event. This report will be the first of its kind with in-depth information about the global scenario of suicide, groups at risk of suicide and the ways in which the number of deaths from suicide can be prevented by action from the individual and collective levels. Along with the report, this year’s event is examining the ways to communicate mental health issues effectively and global strategies to advocate the implementation of WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013 to 2020 through partnership.

 

Suicide is a leading global public health issue. Around the world, in every 40 seconds, there is one death because of suicide. In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. According to WHO, “Suicide is now among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15 to 44 (male and female). Suicide attempts are up to 20 times more frequent than completed suicides”. Globally each year approximately one million people die from suicide. Although suicide rates have traditionally been highest amongst elderly males, rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at highest risk in a third of all countries.

 

Mental health disorders (particularly depression and substance abuse) are associated with more than 90% of all cases of suicide. Kathryn Goetzke, the founder of the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred) says, “over 350 million people around the world have depression, a treatable disease, yet less than 50% of those with depression are currently receiving treatment”. Ms. Goetzke stresses the importance of this year’s WHO mhGAP forum as being critical to draw global attention to the urgency in bridging the mental health treatment gap. Her organization iFred works to #endstigma, to ensure all those needing treatment feel comfortable getting help. She says, “iFred also believes that by rebranding with a focus on hope, business and individuals are going to be more inspired to donate and fund solutions for this debilitating disease”. With the goal of rebranding depression, iFred has started global campaigning using hashtags like #sharehope #rebranddepression #endstigma.

 

 

According to WHO research, the mental health treatment gap is unacceptably high across the world ranging from 50% to 98%. In rich countries as well, 50% to 60% of people who are believed to be in need of support do not seek any kind of help for their problem. This is a global shame that world governments must give attention. Right to quality mental health services is a fundamental human right. In this context, much work lies ahead for us towards creating #innovative mental health services which will attract and build the trust of users.

 

I believe this mhGAP Forum will build some #hope in this direction. As a participant at the Forum, Ms. Goetzke says that “iFred is thrilled to be participating in this year’s event at the World Health Organization, as this year’s focus directly fits to our new Schools for Hope program. We are inspired by the amount of work occurring globally in mental health, and admire Dr. Shekhar Saxena and his team in creation of the Global Mental Health Action Plan and its implementation advocacy around the world”. She further adds, “we are looking forward to hearing more from the WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan who plans to speak at the event this year.”

 

Mental health services are highly stigmatized—regardless of whether the country or society is rich or poor. As a result, people are demonized, and alienated from the entire social process. This is a major factor that discourages people from seeking help. We must aim to overcome this barrier, through shared learning, and move toward bridging the shocking mental health treatment gap.

 

A new article written by Jagannath Lamichhane

 

 

Mental health is a worthwhile goal for United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda

 

no-health-without-mental-health

The post-2015 development goals will, as we know, set out the world’s development agenda for the foreseeable future—in the same way that the Millennium Development Goals provided a framework for global development over the past couple of decades. The United Nations is now preparing to choose its new set of sustainable development goals and the Global Mental Health community must work hard to ensure these goals include mental health.

Professors Vikram Patel and Graham Thornicroft have recently published an article in the British Medical Journal, which outlines why the case for including mental health in the UN’s new development agenda is a compelling one.

Indeed their case is compelling. When we think about it logically, it makes sense: poor mental health is a precursor to reduced resilience to conflict, they argue. In the midst of conflict, hope is a scarce resource and instead of teaching hope, “in the aftermath of war people with mental illness are often accorded the lowest priority”. If we think about the seemingly intractable global conflicts of today, from Syria and Iraq to the massacre in Gaza, the call to address mental health concerns as a priority development agenda, and as a result, rebrand mental illness and teach hope to thousands, is most pertinent.

Including mental health in the new global development agenda will also go a long way towards ending the paralyzing stigma associated with all kinds of mental illness. Not least, the most common mental disorders like depression and anxiety would be well on their way to receiving a more hopeful image globally, recognized as issues which affect us all personally and as communities, cities and countries.

Thornicroft and Patel in fact argue that if mental health is included in the new development agenda and mental health systems are globally improved, that would also “have a decisive role in making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable”. For addressing mental health concerns of an individual is not only beneficial to the person suffering, but when the problems associated with mental illness are given importance by society and a collective effort to address them is taken, it will inevitably create a sense of common belonging, hope, equality and indeed resilience among communities.

This would then also require addressing the income and economic inequalities faced by people who suffer from mental health problems. They have far lower rates of employment, but also, in times of economic recession, a population’s mental health is worse, argue the two professors. If we can thus promote a principle of ‘sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all,” again this too would benefit wider society as a whole.

The narrative which is understood by these arguments is that mental health problems are a global issue that impacts not only those who suffer, but wider society and large populations of human settlements. It is thus, for our collective benefit that we make treatment available to people who are suffering and in turn spread the message of hope globally.

The reasons that we need to push for the inclusion of mental health in the global development agenda are of course many, and only a few have been mentioned here.  But what is important to remember is that the proliferation of mental health problems is the result of collective ignorance of these issues over a long period of time. When we can talk freely about depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, we can find and develop ways to tackle these issues whether it’s through modern medicine, community-building or teaching hope to young people. What we do know is that the conversation can become truly global if we can secure mental health in the Post-2015 development agenda. The BMG editorial rightly highlights that mental health is a worthwhile goal for sustainable development.

A new article written by Bidushi Dhungel

Young and Vulnerable: The biggest tragedy regarding youth mental illness is collective inaction

This year, United Nations International Youth Day (IYD), on August 12, has been designated to celebrate the importance of youth mental health with the slogan ‘Mental Health Matters’. This is an opportunity, particularly for low and middle-income countries, to highlight a vitally important—but utterly neglected—aspect of youth life. The neglect has occurred on many levels by both state and society. In a statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rightly highlighted the global urgency to address the stigma and discrimination of youth with mental health conditions.

For the majority of youth who suffer from mental illness, they are forced to live a life of rejection from friends, society and relatives. They are denied the status of ‘citizen’, social membership and basic human needs, robbing them of a dignified life. Around the world, mental illnesses play a significantly negative role in the development of hundreds of millions of youth and their social and economic inclusion and empowerment. In poor countries like Nepal, the young population with mental illness is in a particularly vulnerable position because of the lack of a public health approach in dealing with mental illness, the absence of basic support for their recovery from the state and the deeply entrenched stigma of their illness.

More at risk

Coinciding with the IYD 2014, the United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs has published an insightful report, ‘Social Inclusion of Youth with Mental Health Conditions,’ targeting global actors involved in the field of youth empowerment. I would recommend that youth activists and development workers in Nepal and abroad read this report seriously.

While the young years of life are usually considered to be the most physically active, healthy and energetic of one’s life, this phase is also one when people are most susceptible to mental health problems. However, in many low and middle-income settings, the latter risk is entirely ignored. I do hope that the exposure the issue is getting this year will be instrumental in changing the outlook of mental health, particularly of youth mental health, across the globe.

Nearly one fifth of the global population is comprised of youth aged 14 to 24 years. Almost 90 percent of these live in low and middle-income countries. In a study carried out by Professor Vikram Patel and his team, it is estimated that approximately 20 percent of youth experience a mental health condition each year around the world. Because the youth years are a phase of emotional transition and a time to nurture and pursue childhood dreams, the pressure to study well, find jobs and opportunities is also high.

Drug use, emotional and learning difficulties and disappointment are common. In countries like Nepal, socio-economic disparities and practices of early marriage and strenuous labour can make the situation worse, leaving young people more at risk of experiencing mental health problems than anyone else. Many studies suggest that over 70 percent of mental disorders start before the age of 16. One in nine children attempt suicide before high school graduation and 40 percent of those are in grade school.This is clear evidence that mental health services must be developed to target young age groups.

Educating and collective action

OPRF School Planting, 2013

The prevention and promotion of mental health issues is the way to deal with the growth in mental health problems amongst the youth. Integrating mental health issues into school education is the most effective approach to prevent and promote mental well-being. With an ambition to institutionalise mental health education at the school level and teach hope from an early age, US-based entrepreneur Kathryn Goetzke and her team have just started a pioneering programme, Schools for Hope. This team strongly believes that we can teach our kids how to find pathways to hope, no matter what they experience and that ultimately, we can prevent suicide in youth and adulthood. If this programme is successful, it will be a revolutionary step forward in promoting and institutionalising emotional health and mental well-being.

The biggest tragedy regarding mental illness is collective inaction, which has perpetuated tremendous fear, uncertainty, helplessness, segregation, and hopelessness in the lives of those who suffer. Rather than the illness itself, a fear of social rejection and segregation leads almost a million people to commit suicide every year, with the majority of them young people. By promoting greater social inclusion and empowerment of youth living with mental illness in society, we can change this reality.

It is also vitally important to spread the message that effective services (both social and clinical) exist to manage all kinds of mental health problems. We need to build capacity and a knowledge base to address them. Now, we have to start demanding equitable investment for the mental well-being of the population by asking that the state make holistic mental health services available and accessible for all.

 A new article written by Jagannath Lamichhane

Lamichhane is global coordinator of the Movement for Global Mental Health

The Path to Happiness is Sound Mental Health

In July 2011 the UN General Assembly passed a historic resolution:  It invited member countries to measure the happiness of their people and to use this to help guide their public policies. Bhutan topped the first report published in 2012 as the ‘happiest’ country, in a shocking revelation. According to the report, “the word ‘happiness’ is not used lightly. Happiness is an aspiration of every human being, and can also be a measure of social progress.” It further goes on to take the example of the US to explain: “America’s founding fathers declared the inalienable right to pursue happiness. Yet are Americans, or citizens of other countries, happy? If they are not, what if anything can be done about it?”

Undoubtedly, this “happiness” discourse is intrinsically linked to the mental health of individuals, communities and countries. One has to wonder: Why are Mexico and Costa Rica “happier” than the US, even in the event of massive income, development and freedom deficits in the former countries? This then leads us to the idea that perhaps — just perhaps — happiness cannot be measured by wealth or external development, but rather by other factors like peace of mind, social cohesion, satisfaction, inclusion in the community and personal integrity: all factors associated with good mental health. Unsurprisingly, the 2013 World Happiness Report reveals in chapter three that mental illness is, in fact, the “single most important cause of unhappiness, but it is largely ignored by policy makers”.

The 2013 report shows that mental health is the “single most important determinant of individual happiness” (in every case where this has been studied). About 10 percent of the world’s population suffers from clinical depression or crippling anxiety disorders going by UN data.  And accordingly, that makes depression and anxiety the biggest causes of disability and absenteeism, with huge costs in terms of misery and economic waste. Most cases of depression and anxiety are easily treatable—medically and socially.

Cost-effective treatments exist as I have discussed in previous blogs, but even in advancedcountries, only a third of those who need it are in treatment according to the report. The incredibly frustrating part is that the available treatments ranging from psychotherapy (CBT, Mindfulness) to medication produce recovery rates of 50% or more, which means that effectively, fifty percent of the world’s ‘unhappy’ people could be happier and be living far more fulfilling lives!

That means that there are indeed objective benefits of subjective well-being. The Happiness Report 2013 shows a broad range of evidence showing that people who are emotionally happier, who have more satisfying lives, and who live in happier communities, are more likely both now and later to be healthy, productive, and socially connected. These benefits in turn flow more broadly to their families, workplaces, and communities, to the advantage of all.

But it seems not enough that human rights require that treatment should be as available for mental illness as it is for physical illness. The policy priority in much of the world for mental health, especially in developing countries, is incredibly low. Even politicians are marked by the terror of the stigma associated with mental illness such that mental illness is rarely expressed or internalized as a leading cause for the misery of any state’s population.

What I found particularly useful in the 2013 World Happiness Report are the solutions suggested to overcome these barriers to sound mental health and thus a happier global population. It suggests two main strategies: to provide better healthcare and social support for adults who are mentally ill. But a second is to intervene earlier — since half of adults who are mentally ill experienced the onset of their mental health problems by the age of 15, say the writers of the report. This, I suppose, would mean starting to talk about mental health as a real and substantial issue from a young age within schools and local communities. The research done on the mental health variable with regards to happiness shows the contribution of a child’s development to his/her resulting life satisfaction as a child. Basically, the emotional development of children is crucial to determining their mental health later in life. According to the research, “if you are interested in well-being, intellectual development needs to be balanced by much more interest in emotional and social development”.

Having read this report, I am even more enthused about the work that iFred is doing through the Schools for Hope program! While the notion of providing better mental health services at the adult stage will forever be crucial to the well-being of society, measures to incorporate the ideas of hope into school curriculums could well go a long way in preventing common mental disorders like depression and anxiety in the first place by nipping the bud at the root. And that is exactly what the World Happiness Report 2013 has clarified – that preventative care is possible, through education and services for young people!

A new article written by:

Jagannath Lamichhane

(with support from Bidushi Dhungel)

#happiness #teachhope #mentalhealth #shinelight