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

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

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

Depression and anxiety are linked to happiness and there’s plenty that can be done from a young age

In the last blog, I talked about the World Happiness Report 2013 and began to explore the links between mental health and happiness. I want to explore this in further detail here, to examine the issues which effect happiness in an individual’s life and the implications of positive mental health on these indicators. As I mentioned in the earlier post, and as the Happiness Report 2013 clarifies, mental illness is the “single biggest determinant of misery.” While the prevalence of the problems varies between countries, at any given time, around 10 percent of the world’s population suffers from some kind of mental illness. Among all the mental illnesses, depression and anxiety are most common—accounting for about a fifth of all disability globally. Naturally, this has an incredible effect on the output of individuals, societies, countries and globally! And as we’ve heard so many times before, people are not receiving treatment for these illnesses for which cost-effective treatments exist—not even in the richest of countries!

 

For depression and anxiety disorders, evidence-based treatments can have low or zero net cost, according to not only the latest Happiness Report, but a host of professionals working in the field. They can and should be made far more universally available. However, these are all post-illness measures and the majority of interventions have focused too heavily on tackling the issues surrounding mental ill health at a later stage in life, when illnesses have been brewing and developing for years.

 

But in order to successfully make the case for childhood intervention, a paradigm shift is required which would look to establish mental health as intrinsically linked to personal happiness and not just a medical illness. That is what the World Happiness Report seeks to do precisely, by pointing out that “schools and workplaces need to be much more mental health-conscious” and “directed to the improvement of happiness” in order to prevent mental illness and promote mental health.

Ifred blog photo

 

The importance of good mental health to individual well-being can be demonstrated, in fact, by reference to values, according to the World Happiness Report 2013, which sit “at the very heart of the human condition.” Here, the Report, for example, says that if the ultimate goal in life and the truest measure of well-being is happiness, it’s “hard if not impossible” to flourish and feel fulfilled in life when individuals are beset by health problems such as depression and anxiety. This couldn’t be truer. Further, an individual’s self-identity and ability to flourish are often influenced by their social surrounding, relationships and engagement with those around them, but with mental illness, these become increasing difficult to maintain and manage. Importantly, the other issue identified by the report is that once an individual loses the ability to manage thoughts, feelings and behavior, then happiness becomes a distant dream to them.

 

The focus then should be at promoting happiness in all spheres of life, at home, school, work, and, in effect, promote mental health too. This would mean fostering an environment, for example, where young people and young professionals would not be personally, professionally or socially pushed to be isolated, over-stressed, keep feelings bottled up and be accepted and nurtured to grow and develop on their strengths and manage their weaknesses.

 

Further, there is plenty of scientific evidence that links happiness (thus equating to the absence of mental illness) to healthy lifestyles, including getting plenty of exercise which releases endorphins – aka happy hormones – and eating right. Personally, meditation and yoga I believe are also great techniques which can be developed as a lifestyle to promote well-being overall. Teaching these kinds of lifestyle choices from a young age can also prove to be extremely fruitful in the long run to fight unhappiness and mental illness simultaneously. After all, while it’s necessary to further develop medical and social interventions – as is most popular today – to address mental illness, nipping the bud at the root would undoubtedly be the most effective approach!

 

Having said all of this, I am thrilled to say that iFred is already well on its way to adopting this model of intervention, through all of its work. From developing a positive image of depression globally, to educating children about the value of hope in schools, iFred’s work deserves not only praise on this account, but some serious up-scaling through global partnerships!.

 

A new article written by:

Jagannath Lamichhane

 

Support During Suicide, Feeling Passionate Grief, and Finding Hope

A friend of mine told me today she lost her friend’s father to suicide.  It was completely unexpected.  Why, she asks?  How did we not know?  How does this happen?

Suicide is such a mystery.  Sometimes there are signs, other times there aren’t.  No matter how hard we try, we can not save another person.  The bottom line is they must want and know how to save themselves.

The unfortunate thing is that most people don’t know how to ask for that help – don’t feel comfortable asking for it.  Instead they act out, running from the pain, in the end making it only worse because usually that acting out has negative consequences.

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