This week in my global public health class, a shocking statistic was presented to me. Since 2014, the leading cause of death in female’s aged 15-19 worldwide is suicide (WHO, 2014). Just let that sink it. Young adult women are more likely to take their own life than die from HIV/AIDS, malaria, cancer, road-accidents, and complications with childbirth or any other things we might think of. This says a lot about the huge worldwide improvement in basic public health resources such as sanitation and safe sex practices. But also highlights the huge “elephant in the room” that is mental health and care facilities.
Many organizations such as suicide hotlines, free counseling and mental health services have been put in place over the past 20 years. But we are still behind in impactful treatment of mental health disorders, especially in less medically advanced countries. Millions of sufferers are not able to access the mental health treatment they need which results in the rates of suicide climbing.
The severity of mental illness is extremely minimized in many cultures and I believe that one way we can start to mitigate this by talking about our struggles more openly. I also think it is very important that people are educated about the issues. Parents often worry about their children drinking alcohol, driving in cars, taking risks and sharing water bottles when they should spend more time ensuring their child’s mental health is intact. Teenage girls are twice as likely to die from suicide than from a drug overdose, yet we have drug education in high school but no mental health programs.
Now for a little bit of story time:
I am thankful everyday that I am lucky enough to be an American Citizen and have insurance that covers the health care I need, and resources put in place so that I can access the best care possible. I really realized how privileged I was during recovery from my eating disorder. The US has many areas for improvement but I believe they are the leaders in the treatment of severe mental health disorders. When it became evident that I would need inpatient 24-hour structured physical and mental care in order to recover I had many treatment facility’s to choose from. Luckily, I had great insurance that covered the $1000’s a day treatment costs. Sadly many Americas do not have sufficient medical insurance, and are not able to afford the extreme costs out-of-pocket, meaning that they do not receive adequate mental health care.
Even in New Zealand, a developed country, this is not the case. In New Zealand you will be admitted to hospital and re-fed until you are physically stable and then released with very little assistance in fixing the root of the problem within the brain. Its like they almost forget that anorexia is a mental disorder and just treat the physical symptoms which is like putting a Band-Aid on an amputation. There are a few privet facilities’, but they only take a small amount of patients and are extremely expensive. I have a few friends back home that are still struggling and I would do anything to give them access to the recovery program that I had.
What we can do about this problem:
Talk more: I am a firm believer that personal problems weighing you down feel much lighter when they are shared. I want to encourage all people to speak more openly about mental health issues, as I think the real killer is silence. Mental illness is a lot more prominent than you probably realize. 18% of the adult population is currently diagnosed with anxiety or depression disorders, while many more struggle without clinical diagnoses (NIMH, 2015). I bet that if you start opening up to the people around you, you will find that many of your peers have experienced some sort of mental health episode. The more you talk about it now, the more likely a friend will be to reach out to you if they are feeling low.
Take a break: Depression is also the leading cause of disability in adults ages 18-54, meaning that more productive work years are lost due to depression than any other illness (NIMH, 2015) Due to this, it needs to be more socially accepted in the work place to take “mental health days”. I’ve experienced a bad flu and a bad bout of mental health; both make it equally impossible to get out of bed. I encourage parents to let their kids take days off in order to improve their mental health. I also think its extremely important to let the weekends be relaxing, do some self care and restore mental health for the week ahead.
I urge you and those you love to spend a little time this week thinking about mental health. How are you feeling? Are you taking actions to increase the quality of your daily life? Send a thoughtful message to someone you haven’t seen in a while or make time to get coffee with a friend. Be aware of subtle indications that people around you are struggling and send out a helping hand. We are all on this crazy ride of life together; sometimes we just need to have a big group hug.
Thanks for reading
National Institute of Mental Health, Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry. 2015 Jun;62(6):593-602.
World Health Organisation. “Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative.” WHO (2014): n. pag. Preventing Suicide. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.