Mental health - a plea for more acceptance

The importance of the psyche for physical health was already known to the ancient Romans: "Mens sana in corpore sano" or "a healthy mind dwells in a healthy body" is the motto for holistic well-being. Today, mental suffering is one of the biggest public health challenges worldwide. In Europe, almost one in four people is affected by mental health problems throughout their lives. They are even the third most common health impairment after cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Comprehensive measures are needed to promote mental health and well-being, not least the elimination of taboos and prejudices associated with mental illness.

Related SDGs

Precarious neglect of people with mental health issues

Goal 3 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) specifies the intent to ensure a life of good health and to promote the well-being of all people at all ages. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as the state of well-being in which a person is able to realize his or her potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and contribute to the community.

In contrast, mental disabilities are characterised by a combination of distressing thoughts, emotions, behaviours and relationships with others. Examples of mental disorders include depression, drug addiction, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder or psychosis. Girls and women are affected more often than men.

Only one per cent of all public health expenditure is spent on mental health services across Europe. The underfunding has become apparent at the latest since the outbreak of the global pandemic, which caused the number of mental complaints to skyrocket. Many young people have been waiting for months for a place in therapy, while statistics on depression and anxiety disorders in adults have risen by 25%. Meanwhile, the health system can no longer keep up with the needs of those seeking help. In poorer countries, the situation is much worse. More than 75% of all people with mental illness left to their own devices and not receiving appropriate treatment.

Psychological suffering hinders sustainable development

Mental suffering is difficult to grasp; depressive people do not bleed, anxiety cannot be recognised by a plaster cast and addiction does not walk on crutches. Nevertheless, the results of current surveys should immediately prompt us to rethink. In Switzerland, almost half of all disability pension recipients are no longer able to cope with everyday life due to mental illness.

Increased investment in health infrastructure is essential to prevent deterioration, to close treatment gaps and to ensure equal access to mental health care. Improving access to basic facilities would improve the situation. This means that living, educational and working conditions should be health-promoting wherever possible. This aspiration reflects the interdependence of the 17 goals and emphasises the importance of holistic strategies to promote sustainable development.

The courage to leave a gap in the cupboard

After all, we need to strip mental illness of its taboos and be aware of implicit prejudices. “You’re out of your mind” is one of many phrases that often carelessly serves mental health stereotypes. Consequently, our language reduces the mentally impaired to second-class citizens. In this respect, it would be desirable to review the parameters of what is considered normal or productive. Success, intelligence, intellect; these qualities are identified in terms of performance, which can often only be achieved by pushing one’s own limits and ignoring physical warning signals. The notorious overstretching of one’s resources burns out and makes one ill. And anyway, who says that a missing cup in the cupboard does not allow for just as fulfilling a life as one with full cupboards – I plead for more courage to leave gaps!

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