Mind Over Matter: Destigmatising Mental Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not just the absence of disease” (1948). This holistic view is a recent development and reflects a change in how the right to adequate health and well-being is understood. Despite this progress, significant challenges remain (OHCHR, n.d). Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a 25% increase in the global prevalence of anxiety and depression (WHO, 2022), bringing the focus on this silent pandemic.

Living with a mental health condition is often burdened by a greater stigma than the illness itself. Public stigma, characterised by negative attitudes and behaviours from society towards individuals with mental illness, is rooted in stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. In addition to the personal biases faced by individuals with mental health conditions, societal and institutional policies, and practices, as well as cultural norms, often perpetuate prejudice and discrimination. This larger-scale bias, referred to as structural stigma, leads to unequal access to opportunities and resources, such as employment, secure housing, and healthcare.  Moreover, individuals with mental health conditions may internalise negative attitudes and biases they encounter, a process known as self-stigma, as a result of repeated experiences with public and structural stigma, and consequently reducing help-seeking proactiveness (Shahwan et al, 2022: 2).

Because of the negative impact of stigma, reducing it is considered a critical global health issue. In the past, anti-stigma efforts were primarily led by psychiatric experts. However, the success of education through personal interaction has led to calls for involvement of individuals with mental health conditions in the fight against stigma. Their first-hand experiences and perspectives can provide valuable insights, giving voice to those affected by mental health difficulties and highlighting areas where previous strategies have been inadequate.

It is quite illustrative, that the latest Human Development Report, “Uncertain times, unsettled lives: Shaping our future in a transforming world”, reveals that mental health problems are the leading source of disability worldwide, yet only 10% of those who need mental health support receive it (UNDP, 2022). This statistic becomes even more concerning when focusing on younger generations, with 13% of the global burden of mental disorders in individuals aged 10-19 (WHO, 2021).

With the world starting to return to normal, we must take this chance to reignite our efforts in promoting and enhancing mental health. In this line, we acknowledge the importance of addressing mental health issues during the crucial stage of adolescence in a person’s development. With awareness and safe spaces, individuals can reduce the risk of negative consequences in adulthood, including impaired physical and mental health and limited opportunities for fulfilment. Thus, with our project “Breaking taboos about mental health” we support the two key messages about the critical approach to mental health; there is no health without mental health, and good mental health means much more than the absence of a mental impairment (OHCHR, n.d).

Breaking taboos about mental health” seeks to raise awareness of adolescent mental health among youth workers, utilising innovative digital media tools for awareness-raising and prevention. By doing so, the project also aims to enhance the digital skills of youth workers, potentially increasing their chances for professional integration in the education and training sector.

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Shahwan, S., Goh, C. M. J., Tan, G. T. H., Ong, W. J., Chong, S. A., & Subramaniam, M. (2022). Strategies to Reduce Mental Illness Stigma: Perspectives of People with Lived Experience and Caregivers. MDPI AG International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(3), 1-17. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19031632

OHCHR. (n.d). The right to mental health. https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-procedures/sr-health/right-mental-health

UNDP. (2022, October 11). Settled minds, settled lives: Five ways to ensure equitable mental health for ALL. https://www.undp.org/india/blog/settled-minds-settled-lives-five-ways-ensure-equitable-mental-health-all

World Health Organization. (1948). Constitution of the World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/gb/bd/PDF/bd47/EN/constitution-en.pdf?ua=1

World Health Organization. (2021, November 17). Adolescent mental health. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health

World Health Organization. (2022, March 2). COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide


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