Many people live with mental health difficulties that can have a significant impact on their ability to enjoy their lives, work productively and make a contribution to society. These problems can be complex, long-lasting and have a profound effect on relationships with family and friends, work and life in general. They can cause feelings of shame and isolation, lead to lack of self-worth and poor performance at work, and have a negative impact on the ability to access and benefit from healthcare services. Despite these challenges, the majority of mental health problems can be treated and improved, particularly when it is recognized early on and the person receives support and treatment.
Mental illness is common, persistent and largely preventable. It is associated with a wide range of adverse outcomes such as increased morbidity, disability and premature mortality, often due to inadequate resources and inequitable care. The vast care gap for these conditions is a major obstacle to improving mental health, yet there are opportunities to scale up and diversify services for example through non-specialist psychological counselling or digital self-help.
People who have poor mental health face a variety of barriers to care, including social stigma, fear of being judged, inability to access services, financial issues and limited health insurance coverage. The risk of mental illness varies across population groups and reflects factors such as age, gender, employment status, living alone, poverty and socio-economic status. Risk of, and resilience to, poor mental health is also affected by lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise and by the availability of supportive social networks.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. The goal is for everyone to be able to realize their full potential in all aspects of their life.
The best way to achieve mental health is through a holistic approach that includes prevention, promotion and recovery services. These should be provided through a partnership between health professionals, service users and their families and communities, building on the best available evidence and taking into account experiential knowledge derived from people who have lived with mental illness, as well as cultural and social explanatory models of mental disorders. Mental health and the stigma attached to it must be tackled head on. It starts with people talking about their mental health with each other, including in the workplace. We can start by asking each other how we are doing in a warm and authentic manner, and giving people time to respond and acknowledge their experience. Then, we can build on these conversations to create safe spaces where people feel able to talk about their mental health and seek help if needed.