World Mental Health Day: Recognizing the Whole Person

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We celebrate World Mental Health Day annually as a reminder that mental health is an important aspect of our general health and well-being.

Increasing awareness that a person’s mental health must necessarily be taken into account when assessing their overall health needs and wellness is the primary agenda behind World Mental Health Day, commemorated this year on October 10. The day is an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health and is supported by organizations like the World Health Organization, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and National Institutes of Health. Attitudes toward mental health issues have definitely changed over the past several decades. But despite the enormous progress that’s been made, not only in public perceptions about mental illness (especially with regard to overcoming the stigma once commonly associated with mental disorders), but also in the types of treatments available to address it, mental health remains the proverbial stepchild when it comes to human wellness. Each year, advocates use World Mental Health Day (often commemorated as a part of Mental Illness Awareness Week) as one vehicle to help change mental health’s longstanding second-class healthcare status.

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about some tragedy that at least partly involved someone’s poorly addressed mental health issues. Just a few days ago, a woman with a one-year-old child on board rammed her vehicle into a security gate outside the White House in Washington, DC and was eventually shot and killed by police. There are some indications the woman may have been in the throes of a relatively rare but serious type of postpartum depression and/or psychosis. And only a couple of weeks before that incident, a man who was likely suffering from some kind of delusional disorder entered the Navy Yard compound, also in Washington and, armed with a rifle, went on a shooting spree that left 13 people (including himself) dead (for more on this story see “Navy Yard Shooter Case: Signs of Trouble Missed?”). But aside from the rare, severe, or ineffectively treated conditions that sometimes result in high-profile tragedies and make headlines, the real horror story in mental health is the appalling lack of attention paid on a daily basis to the estimated 25 percent of the population who suffer from some kind of diagnosable mental disorder in any given year.

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Given the enormous stresses that various economic, political, and humanitarian crises have placed on hundreds of thousands of individuals in recent years, the need to get much more serious about how we tend to the mental health needs of our people could not possibly be greater. Turmoil in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, as well as parts of Africa, has helped to create not only a refugee crisis of staggering proportions (some sources say the greatest refugee crisis since 1994), but also a situation of difficult emotional and psychological adjustment for the survivors of the various types of trauma (e.g., rape, torture, physical maiming, witnessing loss of life and violence against family and friends, etc.) so often associated with political oppression and war. Further, financial pressures in economically distressed areas of the world have stressed many individuals and families to the brink. Many who have survived these difficult economic conditions have had to endure natural disasters as well. Providing for the basic medical needs of these trauma survivors is challenging enough, but adequately tending to their emotional and other psychological needs, especially in the face of prolonged hardship, is even more challenging.

Medical science has made enormous strides in understanding the neurochemistry and neurobiology involved in many mental disturbances. As a result, powerful medications have been developed over the years, many of which have truly revolutionized crucial aspects of mental health treatment. But mental disorders are, by their very nature, complex conditions that most often require multimodal intervention strategies and ongoing follow-up care in order to be adequately addressed. And that kind of comprehensive care can get pretty expensive at times. That’s a major reason why many mental health care providers face constant pressures from third party payers to streamline and time-limit their services. But studies consistently show that the overall costs to any society (e.g., in lost productivity, complications to other health conditions, impact on families, etc.) of inadequately treating mental illness far outweigh the costs of providing adequate, comprehensive mental health care. So, it’s become quite clear that the dominant reasons for mental health’s perennial second-class status within the realm of healthcare are the distorted perception of its importance on the part of many and the lack of determination among public policymakers to commit the necessary resources — things that initiatives like World Mental Health Day are trying hard to change.

It’s time to put an end once and for all to mental health’s second-class status in the realm of healthcare. Trauma affects the whole person, and no person can be fully well unless they are healthy in body, mind, and spirit. Providing adequate medical care necessarily means tending to the needs of the whole person, including their mental health needs. More and more of us are coming to recognize this. And if the statistics are right, more and more of us will witness the truth of this firsthand because of the mental conditions we might struggle with ourselves during our lifetime or have to deal with among our family members or within our circle of friends and acquaintances. We can help change the status of mental health by advocating for parity not only in assessment and treatment but also in provider reimbursement. And we can all do our part to change attitudes. Our mental health is something neither to be ashamed of or ignored. It’s something to be included in our very perception of human health. No one is truly healthy unless they are wholly well.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Pat Orner Oliver on .

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