Mental health - Potential societal explosion to watch
Could many of us ever think that the mental health of a people is as critical as any predominant diseases eating us up on daily basis?
I had the privilege to sit in an informative awareness creation and fund-raiser for mental health issues, organised by a private company, KGL Group, last Wednesday.
As explained by one of the presenters, Professor Pinaman Appau, the CEO of the Mental Health Authority (MHA), the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of what is health speaks to every one of us.
The definition states, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
The clear implication here is that mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.
Based on the definition, Professor Appau explained that unless one’s mental health was as sound as the body, one could not claim total health.
Consequently, the fact that one has not stripped off one’s clothing to walk naked in public but moves about, working, smiling and leading a normal life does not mean such a person is healthy.
Experts at the meeting made it clear that the stresses of life, from the minute one wakes up right to bed time, all have an effect on one’s mental health.
Yet, how many would walk up to a psychologist or psychiatrist and ask for help as one would do with signs of irregular blood pressure or sugar level going up?
Deep-seated in that attitude is the fact that as a society, we have stigmatised mental ill-health.
Gauging from the body language of participants at the programme, there was enough to tell that the revelations were deep as people nodded, clapped or smiled as issues upon issues were raised.
There was deep-seated sentiments on mental health, which the programme helped to bring to the fore.
The programme simplified some of the need to know signs and symptoms of mental ill health that were exhibited in the home, at the workplace and in some other social circles. It also emphasised certain behavioural patterns that might be overlooked and taken as normal, but which were potentially dangerous signs of mental ill-health.
The statistics given by experts were shocking, they were revealing and the appeal to the public was all on point. I could not agree more that mental health is a national security threat of which we are all at risk as parents, managers, wives, husbands, children, unemployed, etc. The risks of getting there or being a victim of attack were not far-fetched.
One learnt from a research in 2010 that as many as 20 per cent of Ghanaians have a moderate to severe psychological distress, which amounts to mental health.
This 20 per cent of the population could be said to be a threat to national security, according to the CEO of the MHA in terms of low productivity at work, increased health costs, and increased turn-over rates.
Years ago, in my former work place, we used to have a psychologist come in and talk to managers on how to manage stress and also sit in interviews for recruits of management trainees.
I remember a research she shared based on women shopping at the market place.
The research observed the behaviours of these women, including those talking to themselves, trying to balance prices with budgets as they selected their family’s food needs.
Those, according to the psychologist, were all stresses of home management and signs of mental disturbance of a sort.
So, the negative effects of mental health cannot be underestimated. It is said to have a general negative impact on society with a widespread effect on individuals, families and communities, not to talk about the social disruptions they bring.
Such disruptions include substance abuse, homelessness and crime.
From what transpired at the Mental Health programme therefore, there is everything to show that the psychological distress happening within corporate environments, at home, in the market place could add up to mental disturbance.
My take? Mental health problems exist in our society and this does not necessarily mean parading naked out there. It is, therefore, imperative for some minds to be focused on the issue.
As government does its bit, the corporate community and philanthropists must come in to hype the existential threat of mental health in our society.
Just as the KGL Group, using its corporate social responsibility Foundation to do so, the many foundations of other corporates could turn in that direction as well. That critical focus is needed now, more than ever before, cannot be overemphasised.
Ghana has SDG goals to achieve, and as was explicitly stated at the fund-raiser programme, contributing to mental health is also contributing to Ghana achieving its SDG targets on health and the well-being of its citizens.
The hype which has been given to some cancers and lifestyle diseases should be extended to mental health, pointing sufferers and, indeed, the entire population in the right direction.
People should be encouraged to have mental health checks as part of their regular checks, for as it is said, there is only a thin line between sanity and insanity.
There has been news reports of wives or partners brutally murdered or harmed for life for insubstantial reasons. We have had people, sometimes as young as teens, committing suicide.
Mental health issues are with us and we should be educated more for people to see the interventions available, like we do with hypertension or diabetes.
Let us have a consistent mental health month with issues frequently discussed in the media.