Focus on mental health


Focus on mental health

Sunday, September 13, 2020

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The following is a lightly edited statement from Dr Joy St John, executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), in observance of Caribbean Wellness Day 2020.

This year, the people of the Caribbean region will celebrate 12 years since the 2007 landmark summit, 'Declaration of Port of Spain: Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases' under a new theme, 'Power Through Collective Action' with the sub theme — “Stronger Together 2020” .

This year CARPHA is pleased to align the Caribbean Wellness Day (CWD) sub-theme with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) mental health awareness campaign.

Worldwide, mental disorders are now recognised as the fifth major non-communicable disease and a major public health threat to economic development in the 21st century.

According to the World Health Organization, one in four people globally will be affected by a mental disorder or neurological disorder in their lifetime, and 450 million are affected by these disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, and substance (for example, alcohol and nicotine) dependency.

In the Caribbean, mental health disorders are a leading cause of disability and a major contributor to the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). In Jamaica, the burden of mental illness is predicted to cause US$2.76 billion in lost economic output from 2015-2030.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is also affecting different people in different ways, and is having a major impact on individuals' mental health and well-being, including those people who have existing mental illnesses.

Individuals with mental disorders often face stigma and discrimination, limitation of human rights, abuse, neglect and inadequate access to community-based treatment, care and support services. Addressing stigma and discrimination are important strategies in programmes for mental health disorders.

Investing in interventions designed to improve health can help reduce the burden of these illnesses. There are cost-effective interventions that Caribbean countries can implement to prevent and control mental illnesses. Scaled up treatment for mental health disorders are likely to increase healthy life years, thus avoiding significant economic losses and social costs. A recent study in Jamaica reported that by scaling up treatment for mental health disorders over 15 years, for every $1 Jamaican dollar spent there is a $4.2 Jamaican dollar return on investment.

Yesterday, countries across the region celebrated Caribbean Wellness Day. The annual event is geared at increasing awareness and promoting activities to address non-communicable diseases, including mental ill health.

We encourage everyone to engage in healthy lifestyles like being physical active, engaging in healthy eating; if you smoke, please quit, reduce consumption of alcohol to the recommended safe quantities, get annual health checks, improve your personal relationships with family and friends, and take care of your mental health. During the pandemic be calm, be safe, and seek help if unable to cope.

As a Caribbean region, let us recommit to the 2007 'Declaration of Port of Spain: Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases' and Sustainable Development Goal 3.4 'to reduce, by 2030, premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by one-third, through prevention and treatment and the promotion of mental health and well-being'.

We must work together in order to prevent and control mental disorders and other NCDs. No one person, organisation or government can do this alone. All members of society need to play their role. A 'whole of society approach' is essential for success.

CARPHA will continue to work closely with the Caribbean Community, institutions of the community, member states and its public health partners to create the needed alliances between governments, academia, civil society, and others, to help to shape regional and country-level policy and programmes that address the issues of mental health disorders and to promote mental well-being.

There is power through collective action and each and every one of us can play a significant role in this response.

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