This Sunday, October 10, we observe World Mental Health Day (WMHD) globally. And, with the enduring rich-poor dichotomy in mind, the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) has chosen to highlight inequality and its implications for mental health.
The WMHD statement says this theme was chosen because “the world is increasingly polarised, with the very wealthy becoming wealthier, and the number of people living in poverty still far too high.”
This past year, the Covid-19 pandemic’s global profile/statistics in infections, hospitalisations, treatment, death, recovery, and currently, access to vaccines, and social upheavals such as the disparity issues that propelled Black Lives Matter in the US were problems that brought the world’s entrenched imbalance to the fore, exposing the widening health, economic, and social inequalities.
The WFMH says: “2020 highlighted inequalities due to race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and the lack of respect for human rights in many countries, including for people living with mental health conditions. Such inequalities have an impact on people’s mental health.”
That inequality is the basis for most, if not all, of today’s health and socioeconomic problems. The structural determinants of health – money, power and resources—we know to belong to an elite and to the corporations they own globally, whose vested interest is not in people ergo not in the health of people.
Yet, the survival of this planet and the upkeep of the wealth of the wealthiest depend on the good health of the whole.
If we have not learned anything about vulnerabilities and susceptibilities from the morbidity and mortality of the past 18 months, than we have missed the primary lessons of this global pandemic.
The entire world is still held captive by an infectious disease emanating from a mostly never-heard-of-place called Wuhan.
Many researchers are saying that the stringent measures, restrictions and isolations, loss of jobs, job insecurity, and growing unemployment, among other factors, including the fear of death or infection have left the world with another pandemic: that of mental illnesses.
To my understanding what it has done is bring the issue forward, with an improved willingness from people affected to speak openly with the knowledge that they are among a constituency of like struggles.
Mental health and the planning, investment, and interventions for mental illness and wellbeing have long suffered neglect and is a lighthouse for the inequality not just by wealthy to the poor but by a world that holds so much disdain for the illnesses of the mind.
This stigma and discrimination experienced by people affected by mental ill health is systematic and entrenched and is sanctioned in the silence of many governments globally who refuse to see the merits of investing/spending, campaigning or advocating for mental ill health and wellbeing as a platform for better all-round health and the wealth of their population.
Stigma and discrimination do not only affects people’s physical and mental health says the WFMH, “stigma also affects their educational opportunities, current and future earning and job prospects, and also affects their families and loved ones. This inequality needs to be addressed because it should not be allowed to continue.”
Pointing to the issue of investment, the statement says, “Lack of investment in mental health disproportionate to the overall health budget contributes to the mental health treatment gap.
“Many people with a mental illness do not receive the treatment that they are entitled to and deserve and together with their families and carers continue to experience stigma and discrimination.
“The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ grows ever wider and there is continuing unmet need in the care of people with a mental health problem.
“People who experience physical illness also often experience psychological distress and mental health difficulties,” the statement says.
“An example is visual impairment. Over 2.2 billion people have visual impairment worldwide, and the majority also experience anxiety and/or depression and this is worsened for visually impaired people who experience adverse social and economic circumstances.”
The Federation says that Mental Health in an Unequal World, as the 2021 WMHD campaign ‘will enable us to focus on the issues that perpetuate mental health inequality locally and globally.”
The Federation is encouraging and committing its support to civil societies to play an active role in tackling inequality in their local areas, and to researchers “to share what they know about mental health inequality including practical ideas about how to tackle this.”
Saying that we all have a role to play to address these disparities and ensure that people with lived experience of mental health are fully integrated in all aspects of life, the WFMH encourages us “to act, and to act urgently.”
“Be a partner, be an advocate.”