Mental Health Week

The AL for Health in collaboration with the ALA Wellness are raising awareness on Mental Health.

According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well, work well, and contribute to their community (“Mental Health: Strengthening Our Response”).

I first heard the term Mental Health, in 2019, during the COVID-19 lockdown. In every online program I participated in, everyone seemed to be talking about mental health and I had no basic idea what that was. The definition I knew for health up until that point stopped at “Health is the absence of disease,” which was not exhaustive of all the aspects of health. After repeatedly coming across people mentioning their projects on mental health, their mental health counselors, mental health this, and mental health that, I started to worry about my mental health, spiraling and thinking I was not taking enough care of my mental health. However, at that point, I was still oblivious to what it was. Thankfully,  3 years later I’ve now read books on different aspects of mental health, had conversations and discussions on mental health, and I’ve learned mental health is not just one thing – it’s a whole spectrum.

As we celebrate World Health Day today, the 10th of October, here is a brief summary of what mental health is and the role we can play in spreading awareness, providing assistance, or seeking help for ourselves. In preparing for this article I interviewed a student who shared her experiences with mental health. This student’s experiences are not representative of all the mental health conditions, and although the experiences are mild forms of mental health issues that are often overlooked, I hope you will take a minute to empathize.

Interview: JLM

“My anxiety stemmed from procrastination and the workload that never seemed to get smaller, my roommate telling me I was too relaxed, and all the other stresses of being a teenager trying to make a change on the continent. It was a battlefield in my mind. I recognized that I was having a problem, but I could not take the step to ask for counseling. There was no basis for my fear except a rumor that if diagnosed with mental health difficulties, one would return home. Even though I had problems asking for professional help, I reached out to my advisory family. During our discussions, I learned how others were coping.  At one of my advisory meetings, someone asked each of us, “Who do you turn to when you have problems?” While thinking about it, I realized although my mother always called to check up on me, I had barely ever given her an honest response. The first positive move I made was to tell my mother about one subject I was having difficulties with. She didn’t yell or tell me to be more serious. She didn’t tell me I just had to work harder. She just asked what she could do to help. I told her I wanted a reminder that I was good enough. Another day one of my friends reminded me of one of our Dean’s quotes, “You deserve to be here, and here deserves you to be”.

From the interview with JLM, I have come to realize the following:

  • What first comes to mind when people hear Mental Health are the disorders and extreme cases. There is not enough awareness of the mental states associated with significant distress, impairment in function, or risk of self-harm –the last part of the definition of mental health by WHO. This definition encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

○ Given this, we need awareness of all the facets of mental health, and when we have the information we have to share it with others. Just as the theme for this year says “Make mental health & well-being for all a global priority”.

  • Peers, family, and everyone around can contribute to the well-being of another person. It does not have to be a grand gesture; listening and reassuring can go a long way.
  • Facilities for mental health assistance are currently limited, but even for those with access, actually going for counseling is a challenge given the stereotyping and stigmatization. As we create facilities and services to promote mental health, it should also be a priority to destigmatize these services. Asking for help doesn’t make one weak and we have to make others see it that way too.

How do we participate in World Mental Health day?

Mental Health day is about increasing awareness of mental conditions and supporting those who need it. How then can we make meaningful contributions to our communities?

  • Organize a town hall to acknowledge the mental health risks and challenges in your business or industry and discuss how we plan to ensure better well-being for our people.
  • Well-being surveys: Peter Drucker said what gets measured gets managed. So use a survey to analyze stress levels, resilience, depression and anxiety risk, sleep quality, and other vital mental health parameters.
  • Invite people with lived experience to share how they successfully managed their conditions.

Wellness retreat and activities to promote relaxation. This would be similar to the wellness day that ALA hosts annually, but rather than having it only once a year, thrice would yield more results I think.

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