Mental Health Advocacy: Promoting awareness, reducing stigma, and advocating for better access to mental health services and resources at individual, community, and policy levels

Hey, Are you okay? Listen it’s okay not to be okay. Let’s talk, let’s vent our emotions. It’s okay to cry when you feel sad, overburdened, or you lose your close people. Mental illness can happen to anyone. It doesn’t know to discriminate between males and females. So even men can also have crying spells, low mood or suffer from mental illness but even society should allow them to ventilate their emotions whenever required otherwise the repressed emotions may come out in more uglier ways. Causes underlying physical illness like diabetes  cancer, cerebral stroke and cardiac arrest as well are related to mental health. We need to keep our mind calm and peaceful to live a happy life. So in one sentence no health without mental health. 

mental health

Myths related to mental health  • People suffering from mental illness or mental health condition are violent.

  • People actually do not have any problems regarding mental health they are acting
  • There is no proper treatment available for mental health issues
  • People or children with intellectual disability are more prone to suffer from mental health condition
  • Nobody can help a person with mental illness
  • Children cannot suffer from mental health condition
  • No psychotherapy or medicines can help prevent mental health condition 

Myths related to mental health stop people from seeking help from mental health professionals and that detoriorates the situation of the person suffering from mental health condition and his/her home. Not only adults even children as well as adolescents can have mental illness. Also prevention is always better than cure even to treat mental health condition. When mental illness or a disorder like depression or anxiety or any psychotic disorder is diagnosed at an early age it becomes a positive prognostic factor , treatment becomes easy and there is a chance of positive consequence for treatment. Thus it is very important to promote awareness towards mental health in schools, colleges, offices and hospital set-ups as well. Availability of n.g.o.s , government hospitals, rehabilitation centre and daycare facilities is important to bring infront of people so that they can seek help. Also it is important and beneficial to elaborate the roles of these places and facilities available like psychological counselling, occupational therapy, medicinal treatment. Often due to deficits in awareness for the facilities available people do not feel comfortable or confident to send their family members to places where they can cure themselves. Promoting awareness is important for family members of patients. Also when awareness programmes are held in school and colleges parents of students should also be present to understand the causes underlying a particular behaviour or the disorder their children are suffering from. It is important to inform them that suffering from mental health condition is not in their hands but treatment procedure is in their hands so they do not need to suffer silently rather should seek help which is also their basic right. Parents and other people should also be informed that now that they are coming to know about mental health condition and treatment procedures it is also their duty too to spread awareness towards mental health in society which would be helpful and beneficial for other people. Cases of suicide or other mental illness are reported among school children as well which may be due to academic pressure, low stress resilience, environmental pressure, deficits in communication pattern with parents and constant comparison in family. 

How to promote awareness towards mental health?

  • It is of utmost importance to clear out the myths and facts about mental illness.
  • Speak openly about mental health condition with any mental health professional without hesitation is important as it is a challenge to stay or live with mental illness. Active listening from the part of the counsellor with proper eye contact can also be encouraging for the clients. People should be motivated to speak about their battles confidently explaining their signs and symptoms and emotions which is helpful for prognosis of treatment procedure.
  • Psychoeducation or educating oneself about symptoms of mental health condition can be fruitful. Many people refuse to speak about their mental health condition as others belittle them. But warning signs are always helpful like feeling low, anger episodes, disturbed sleep patterns, mood swings and many more. Comprehending and teaching people about the causes, symptoms, and treatments available for mental health diseases like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can help people and their families as well as friends to deal effectively with mental illness.
  • Screening for mental health condition in schools, colleges offices and hospital set-ups can help to identify the people suffering from mental health condition. Screening tools are always beneficial for treatment procedure as well.
  • Volunteer involvement in awareness programmes can be helpful too. Awareness programmes should happen in educational institutions and other workplaces to alert people. Also students often remain under tremendous pressure due to their academics, peer pressure, family pressure and other reasons as well.
  • Awareness programmes should be held in towns and villages on days like world schizophrenia day where people from grassroot level can attend and gain knowledge about different mental disorders. They can come to know about the symptoms which will be helpful for them to seek help soon without letting the situation become worse or without letting the disease progress. They should be informed about organic diseases , epilepsy and treatment procedures as well as their availability. Also they should come to know about mind body relationship. Awareness programmes should be held in comprehensive languages which would make people feel interested to attend. Slide shows with diagrams are also helpful.

Basically the cases of mental illness are rising high in India and other parts of the world. WHO estimates that the burden of mental health problems in India is 2443 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) per 100 00 population; the ageadjusted suicide rate per 100 000 population is 21.1. In India mental health issues still remain hidden even among educated people as well. Poverty, unemployment, deficits in proper knowledge about mental health, lack of family planning, high illeteracy rate are some of the major causes behind mental health condition. People feel burdened, shameful to speak about their mental illness. They often develop guilt feeling towards mental health condition. Also in a patriarchal society like India mother’s are blamed for the mental health condition of the children specially when the underlying cause is genetics. People do not focus on solution while dealing with mental health rather the disturbed home environment worsens the situation.Often their family members blame them for the condition for which they are not responsible and constant critical comments make them feel depressed, dejected and rejected in their own house which is considered to be the most comfort zone for people.

Stigma is a negative view about a person who has or is suffering from mental health condition. The person’s behaviour may be different from others and may not be according to the norms of the society. People view them differently and isolate too thinking their different behaviour can impact the other people too or can have a negative impact on them which is not true. Stigma is attached with mental health and old age too. Often people feel that old people are a burden to society specially due to financial crises. Society feels after 60 people cannot work they should retire and sit ideally at home as they are not physically fit enough to work and earn whereas the reality may be different. Stigma also leads to discrimination. People suffering from mental illness as well as old people are often neglected in society by neighbours and their families too. Infact families of mentally ill people have to tolerate pain or feelings of isolation in the society due to lack of awareness. It becomes difficult to lead life peacefully with a mentally ill person which detoriorates the home environment for the other members as well. It is high time we should stop stigma towards mental health so that nobody has to tolerate rejection in the society. Stigma is related with age, skin colour, race , caste, body size, level of income, educational level and sexual orientation too which leads to poor body image , low self esteem, reduced confidence and other mental health condition. 

How can we reduce stigma?

  • To reduce stigma first and foremost people have to stop feeling shameful for their condition and seek proper treatment to improve their condition. Also they should join groups with those people who have similar experiences like them to gain empathy , confidence and social support. Social support is extremely important to deal with stigma, trauma, grief and other mental illness as well. They should also actively participate in awareness programmes for mental health condition after taking help from mental health professionals instead of anyone else. 
  • Also stigma is always not a result of behaviour of others. It also happens due to self doubt and shame when people feel or consider themselves responsible for their weakness or conditions. They may also only focus on problems and faults within themselves which is detrimental to their health. Rather they should seek for counseling where they can find solutions to their problems. Their self esteem, self confidence can increase to. There can be a change in their Cognitive errors which was effecting their behaviour.
  • People should not isolate themselves from the society and family. Rather they should share their problems with those whom they trust so that they can get support and love. It may help them to seek treatment to bring positive changes in their behaviour. Also instead of saying ‘I am schizophrenic people should be encouraged to say I have schizophrenia which is treatable as well ‘. It is important not to equalise oneself with his/her mental illness.
  • After getting treatment from mental health professionals people should also join those groups who often conduct awareness programmes and are attached with work related to mental health. People can continuously get help from them which may boost their self esteem and confidence. Also it results in positive result too.
  • Children suffering from mental illness can face discrimination from their friends and teachers as well. Thus here lies the role of school counsellors who should provide awareness programmes for mental health to teachers to identify children and send it refer them to school counsellors for treatment procedure is which would be beneficial for the children. Regularity in coordination among school counsellors and teachers is important to save children from stigma and discrimination. It also results in positive result after treatment starts. School teachers and school counsellors should also involve parents of every child even if their kids are not suffering from mental illness to spread awareness among them. Schools should also appoint special educators to help special children. 
  • People should also speak confidently against stigma and in favour of mental health condition in events, programmes, letters and newspaper along with internet too which can be helpful to spread awareness and instil courage in others facing challenges along with difficult situations due to their mental health condition. 

Mental health services should always be accessible to people at individual level  community level and policy level too.

Mental health includes emotional health, cognitive health and sustaining relationships in family and friend circle. To improve access in Mental health advocates or mental health professionals have to cross barriers like stigma, financial crises, deficits in awareness, racial barriers and gaps in education about mental health. Mental health advocates or mental health professionals speak about mental health condition to help those who are struggling with mental illness. They can serve people by sharing blogs or writing in articles real life stories which reveal treatment procedure is available for mental health and it is curable too like physical illness. Nowadays through social media too spreading awareness is also possible. Individuals can seek help with mental health professional and organizations working with mental health through social media too. 

In community level volunteers should raise awareness in the community about mental health and identify people who are suffering from mental illness to give them treatment facilities and bring positive changes in their behaviour which will give relief to their families as well. The WHO “Guidance on community mental health services: promoting person-centred and rightsbased approaches”, released in June 2021, provides examples of communitybased mental health care that is both respectful of human rights and focused on recovery like Atmiyata, India, CAPS, Brazil , Tupu Ake, New Zealand and many more centres where psychological counseling and psychological assessments are available along with facilities of medicine too. The goal of community mental health services  includes maintaining family relationships, communicating with friends, taking an active participation in society , performing age- appropriately in occupation as well.

The vision of the National Mental Health Policy is to promote mental health, prevent mental illness, enable recovery from mental illness, promote destigmatization and desegregation, and ensure socio-economic inclusion of persons affected by mental illness by providing accessible, affordable and quality health . Nowadays district mental health programme is also available which recruits mental health professionals for different districts who work in villages, towns to help people deal with mental health condition. Also these programmes should be continuous and sufficient number of psychologists or psychological counsellors should be available to conduct the programmes. Treatment in hospitals in villages and towns should also provide free treatment which will not let people think about their financial condition which is a barrier. People should get proper education in details about treatment procedures and their availability in hospitals. There should be courses available to train students of psychology to deal with mental health condition at district level and community level as well.