Open Access Government unpacks good mental health from the perspective of the World Health Organization
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health should be viewed as “a valued source of human capital or well-being in society”. Good mental health plays an integral part in the health of the population and individuals; it contributes towards welfare and happiness, permits social interaction and feeds labour force productivity, for example. Therefore, everybody needs good mental health to flourish in all aspects of life.
The WHO notes that many people experiencing mental ill-health are frequently denied access to care, as mental health services can lack much-needed resources. Therefore, it is crucial to meet the needs of those with mental disorders but also to encourage the positive mental health of everybody.
The WHO European framework for action on mental health 2021-2025 gives a solid basis for increased efforts to put mental well-being into the mainstream as a vital part of COVID-19 recovery and response. It also seeks to negate any discrimination or stigma tied to mental health conditions and promote investment in good mental health services. (1) Let’s look at tangible examples of what the WHO is doing to support mental health.
The mental health of girls in Finland
Picking up on COVID-19 mentioned above, did you know that new data demonstrate that the mental health of girls in Finland deteriorated during the pandemic? The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study that WHO/Europe collaborated with found that many girls said they felt low last year. For example, 17-19% of 13- and 15-year-old girls reported feeling down daily, a 7-9 percentage points rise from 2018.
“I am worried about 15-year-old girls, who seem to be facing a multitude of mental health challenges such as loneliness, morning fatigue and feeling low, among others. More than 1 in 4 reported experiencing loneliness always or often,” Nelli Lyyra, Senior Lecturer at the University of Jyväskylä comments.
The study found that boys’ mental health has improved over time. “We assumed there would be a decline in how hopeful adolescents are about their future, but surprisingly, the proportion of 15-year-old boys who often saw their future as hopeful was 10% higher in 2022 than in 2018,” Kristiina Ojala, Researcher at the University of Jyväskylä reveals.
Leena Paakkari, Associate Professor at the University of Jyväskylä, helpfully highlights schools’ vital part in addressing their pupils’ mental health. “Schools have an important role as health-promoting settings not only during the pandemic but also now when societies try to recover different losses in adolescents’ well-being, such as health and learning.” (2)
Psychosocial support and the importance of good mental health
An excellent example of access to care is the news that Ukrainian refugees can access good mental health and psychosocial support in the Republic of Moldova. The people of Ukrainian are, of course, at risk of experiencing mental health problems like acute stress, anxiety and depression. Recovery is possible over time for many, but some will go on to experience severe or moderate mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, that need specialised or focused interventions.
“Access to high-quality mental health and psychosocial support can make all the difference to the thousands of Ukrainians at risk of mental health issues,” says Maura Reap, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Consultant for the WHO Country Office in the Republic of Moldova.
“Evidence shows that the prevalence of mental disorders increases significantly during conflict, with 1 in 5 (22%) people who have lived in conflict during the past decade meeting the criteria for a mental health disorder,” Reap adds.
Many people with mental health issues shy away from seeking help or fear discrimination. Plus, language barriers with psychologists, lengthy waiting lists and provision lacking for some groups such as children mean the problem does not improve. Therefore, the WHO Country Office in the Republic of Moldova works closely with partner agencies and the government to give Ukrainian refugees access to much-needed good mental health care.
Stigma about mental health issues can mean people fear discrimination and shy away from seeking help. Additionally, long waiting lists, language barriers with local psychologists and a lack of provision for specific groups – including children – can exacerbate the problem. (3)
Mental health requirements of acute care workers
An excellent place to end this piece is by looking at another mental health aspect to illustrate the WHO’s broader mental health aims. What about the emergency medical workers? An emergency medical doctor, Eeva Tuunainen, participated in the second Pan-European Mental Health Coalition meeting during November 2022.
“As frontline health workers, we like to think of ourselves as superwomen and supermen. In Finland, what we are lacking is the ‘how to take care of ourselves’ part of the work, which obviously affects the treatment of patients,” Eeva comments.
WHO/Europe highlighted a few challenges the health and care workforce across the WHO European Region face in the report Health and care workforce in Europe: time to act. As well as health and care workers shortages relative to higher demand, challenges include “insufficient recruitment in key specialisms such as primary care, and difficulty retaining workers due to, among other factors, high stress and fatigue since COVID-19,” we hear.
“I honestly believe that it counts – talking about it, giving voice to the issue and putting a face to it, making people aware that we are just like everybody else,” Eeva adds. This comment followed Eeva’s discussion of campaigns highlighting acute care professionals and the need for them to not have a stigma in accepting help with their mental health, evidenced by the supply of an online counselling service. (4)
WHO mental health videos
- https://www.who.int/europe/multi-media/item/the-who-european-region- speaks-with-one-voice-on-the-need-to-improve-mental-health-systems
- https://www.who.int/europe/multi-media/item/rehabilitation-services-are-life- changing-for-millions-of-people-across-europe-and-central-asia#
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