Prioritise mental health issues by breaking the silence and stigma

 Policymakers should prioritise mental health in legislation and policy-making. [iStockphoto]

Our collective understanding and acknowledgement of mental health have evolved significantly over the past years, yet we still have a long way to go. Mental health continues to be a topic often cloaked in silence and stigma, rarely getting the attention it deserves in our conversations or policies.

Looking back at May - the month dedicated to mental health awareness - provides us with a valuable opportunity to contemplate our collective approach towards mental health. Have we made the conversations surrounding mental health normal and inclusive? Are we effectively playing our roles as individuals, communities, or policymakers in fostering mental health? Are we doing enough to ensure everyone has access to the care they need? These are pertinent questions we need to address to advance towards a mentally healthier society.

It’s time we raise our collective voice for mental health – advocating for a society that is compassionate, supportive, and understanding. We need a holistic approach that includes individuals, communities, and policymakers in driving change.

First, we need to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health. Stigma isolates people, fosters misunderstanding, and makes it hard for those struggling to seek help. It is critical to understand that mental health conditions are not signs of personal weakness or a lack of willpower; they are medical conditions that require professional help. By fostering open conversations, educating ourselves, and challenging stereotypes, we can create a supportive environment for individuals to seek help without fear of judgment.

Secondly, our focus should be on making mental health treatment accessible and affordable. The current mental health services are often out of reach for many due to financial constraints or geographic limitations. There is an urgent need to bridge this treatment gap by increasing funding for mental health programmes, improving insurance coverage for mental healthcare, and integrating mental health services into primary healthcare systems. This includes advocating for telemedicine options and expanding mental health services in rural and underserved areas.

Prevention and early intervention are vital in dealing with mental health issues. Mental health education should be part of the curriculum in schools and colleges and included in workplace training programmes.

Teachers, counsellors, and employers should be trained to recognise and address mental health issues in their early stages. To effectively address mental health concerns before they escalate, it is important to establish supportive environments that prioritise emotional well-being.

Mental health awareness shouldn’t be limited to a month. It’s a lifelong commitment, and it’s time we treated it as such. [iStockphoto]

Certain groups in our society, such as children, adolescents, veterans, and marginalised communities, face unique mental health challenges due to their circumstances. We need targeted support systems, culturally sensitive care, and specially designed programs to address their specific needs. Inclusive mental health policies can ensure that no one is left behind in receiving the care they need.

Our lawmakers have a crucial role to play in this endeavour. Policymakers should prioritise mental health in legislation and policy-making. This includes mental health parity laws that require insurance coverage for mental health services to be on par with physical health coverage. Additionally, they need to promote policies that address social determinants of mental health, such as poverty, discrimination, and access to affordable housing and education.

There is also a need for continuous research, innovation, and investment in mental health. Future Kenya Demographic and Health Survey should include mental health indicators. Through dedicated research, we can gain a better understanding of mental health conditions, develop more effective treatments, and improve the overall quality of care.

In this digital age, technology can play a transformative role in mental health care. Mental health apps and online support communities can provide additional resources and enhance access to care. They can also help break down barriers of stigma, fear, and isolation, making it easier for individuals to reach out for help.

However, even with the best policies, strategies, and resources, it all comes down to us as individuals. How we react to someone struggling with their mental health can make a significant difference in their journey. Empathy, understanding, and support can mean the world to someone who is feeling isolated and overwhelmed.

In conclusion, mental health awareness shouldn’t be limited to a month. It’s a lifelong commitment, and it’s time we treated it as such. By targeting the stigma, improving access to treatment, promoting prevention strategies, supporting vulnerable groups, incorporating mental health into policies, and fostering research and innovation, we can inch closer to a society where mental health is understood, valued, and prioritised. Let’s join hands and make mental health everybody’s business.