Mental Health: The Health Crisis of Our Time

Suicide is now the leading cause of death in girls aged 15-19 worldwide, surpassing death by childbirth. Differing from other diseases more common in older individuals, mental illness truly is the chronic disease of the young, with 75% being diagnosed before age 24. While other generations faced health concerns of cancer or HIV/AIDS, our biggest challenge will be beginning a mental health revolution. One in four worldwide will have a mental health issue, approximately 450 million people. If you are not 1 of those 4, you likely know someone who is.

For many, like advocate and associate Lian Zeitz from The Global Development Incubator, the mental health system has failed them and didn’t provide care that worked. For others, the system has failed them because there is no option for access. This is especially true for many young people worldwide caught in refugee crisis or facing humanitarian needs. In places like South Sudan, there is only 1 psychologist to serve all of South Sudan, a country continually rattled by ongoing civil war, so services are tremendously difficult to find.

The UN has officially embraced the plan to “Promote Mental Health and Wellbeing” in it’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, words that were never included in policy prior to when the SDGs were adopted in September 2015. Even with this now at the forefront for many world leaders, the stigma and lack of mental services available around the world remains a challenge. Moitreyee Sinha of the Global Development Incubator says, “mental health is an issue as old as humanity, but also society’s largest asset.”

As young people, our response to mental health and starting a mental health revolution will be the greatest health challenge of our generation.

Our experiences with mental health issues, personally or with those we know, bring power for change. As young leaders responding in international development or responding to refugee and humanitarian crises, there is enormous opportunity to rebuild communities even better than they were before. These crises truly create opportunity to scale and develop services, especially those for mental health.

Youth perspectives will also be essential to reducing stigma in communities around the world, shifting attitudes from “just get over it” to understanding it as a health issue. The beginning of solving this crisis is starting a conversation. Mental health is truly about health, and when our minds are treated with the same medical care as the rest of our bodies, we thrive.

To hear more insights from the mhNOW session during UN General Assembly week, listen to the interviews with Craig Kramer of Johnson & Johnson and Lian Zeitz of the Global Development Incubator below!

Featured image: Eric Stensland Smith / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Mental health and women’s health: Eyeing the ‘treatment gap’

Originally published on Devex

Mental health has attracted little attention considering the huge size of the problem. Ranging from mild depression to major psychosis, it is estimated that one in four people suffer from a mental illness, and estimates from the World Health Organization state that around 400-500 million people worldwide are affected.

Among sufferers, many go undiagnosed and untreated. In developed countries, the “treatment gap” can be as high as 50 percent, while in developing countries it can skyrocket to 90 percent. The dearth of medical attention can be traced to a lack of awareness, a fear of the stigma attached to mental illness, or barriers to treatment such as access or finances.

Within these astonishing figures, another little-discussed fact is that women are at greater risk for certain mental health issues. Partly attributed to biological factors, but also partly because of sociocultural factors — including a lower social status than men and different cultural expectations — women suffer from a higher risk of anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

In addition, women are at risk of gender-specific afflictions such as post-partum depression. Intimate partner violence, sexual assault or sexual abuse, which women experience more frequently than men, are also risk factors for developing mental illness later in life.

Image c/o Adi Sujiwo
Image c/o Adi Sujiwo

The ramifications of mental illness extend beyond the individual. Women — often having a greater role in child rearing — suffer additional stress and the responsibilities of parenting can take its toll on mothers. While some studies have found that parenthood can act as a balancing force for individuals, others show that adding mental illness on top of the stress of parenting presents unique challenges.

One case worker described the difficulty of balancing treatment with child care, saying, “I’ve seen a lot of mothers go into crisis, needing hospitalizations and debating which should come first, their mental health or child care, because they had no one in the community that could help them.” Another described the guilt mothers go through when feeling stressed by parental duties, or by witnessing behaviors in their children that they worry is hereditary mental illness, or a sign of failure in their own parenting.

Further compounding the issue is that many — on some level — assume that mental illness is a condition that can be willed away or cured by logical thinking. This fallacy shames sufferers into silence — often with fatal results.

Suicide, often the tragic final outcome of these diseases, is one of the leading causes of death globally: more than 800,000 people a year die by suicide, or one every 40 seconds. Women are two to three times more likely than men to attempt suicide, though men are four times as likely to die from it. Among suicides, a disproportionate number of the victims are found to have a mental illness, most commonly depression or a mood disorder.

With such a profound effect, mental health in both men and women deserves greater attention and resources. More urgently, it requires an eradication of the stigma that prevents most people from seeking help. A greater focus on raising awareness and channeling resources could have a profound positive effect for men as well as women, as well as the families who rely on them.

Join Girl’s Globe’s #HealthyMeans Twitter chat today, November 13th at 11:00 EST to discuss how neurological and psychiatric disorders impact women and girls. To learn more about mental illness or how to help a loved one who suffers, please visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Read more on how gender disparities impact mental health at the World Health Organization.

Want to learn more? Check out the Healthy Means campaign site and tweet using #HealthyMeans.

Healthy Means is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Concern Worldwide, Gavi, GlaxoSmithKline, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Johnson & Johnson and the United Nations Population Fund to showcase new ideas and ways we can work together to expand health care and live better lives.