MENTAL HEALTH - 10 October 2023

There is no health without mental health

Op-ed by Teresa Ngigi, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Advisor at SOS Children’s Villages International

Teresa Ngigi

Remember a time when you had a headache. Whenever we have a headache, we talk about it, and are not embarrassed to say we have a headache. We take a pill, and if we do not have one, we ask another person whether they could give us one.

If the headache persists, we go to the doctor, and we tell our family, colleagues, and friends that we are going to see a doctor because of a persistent headache. Other people empathize with us and offer to support us in any way, including filling in for us in the office.

But when we are feeling depressed, we may not have the courage to talk to anyone about it. We keep it under the hat, making sure no one knows that we are going to see a mental health practitioner. Should we be given medication, we are likely to hide them from others.

Why this difference? It is mainly because of the myths surrounding mental health. When people hear a mention of mental health, they equate it with mental illness. This is disastrous because it prevents people from addressing their mental health challenges, which is their right, and it contributes to the well-being of the whole society. People are ashamed of appearing ‘mentally ill’ and talking about anything concerning their mental well-being becomes taboo.

Thankfully, more and more people are coming to understand that there is no health without mental health.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in. Mental health is a basic human right. And it is crucial to personal, community and socio-economic development”.

Based on the above, mental health is a basic right – it is essential for our ability to live out our lives constructively. It is therefore our collective responsibility to debunk the myths surrounding mental health and see our and other people’s mental health as the driving force of a fulfilling life. This means having an inclusive approach in everything that we do, and avoiding discrimination based on people’s mental state. It means having an empowering approach towards everyone, leaving no one out, so that everyone is able to fulfil the mission for which they are here, ensuring that no one is shamed because of their conditions.

Promotion of mental well-being is closely related to resilience – a factor that we cannot live without and that propels us to take life’s challenges in stride, become our very best selves and participate proactively in supporting those around us, creating and maintaining a resilient diverse community.

Dainus Puras, a UN Mental Health Expert, says: “Respecting that diversity is crucial to ending discrimination. Peer-led movements and self-help groups, which help to normalize human experiences that are considered unconventional, contribute towards more tolerant, peaceful and just societies”.

This shows that we are all interconnected, and when we promote our and other’s holistic well-being, we create a world where everyone feels valued, and only then can we bring the best out of everyone and make the world a better place. This is our mission.

As we celebrate this month dedicated to mental health, let us join hands in caring for ourselves and those around us, making this a lifestyle, and be free to talk about mental health in our circles, shifting from SCARED to SACRED.

Teresa W. Ngigi is an international Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Expert who specializes in Trauma Informed Care. In her role at SOS Children’s Villages, she supports the mental health of children, young people and caregivers, particularly in those countries with a history of civil war and conflict.

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