Sunday, October 10 was World Mental Health Day and as expected, the issues surrounding mental health took centre stage.
In Guyana, the day was observed under the global theme, ““Making Mental Health and Well-Being for All a Global Priority.”
In his message, Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony said: “This annual observance is geared at raising awareness and advocacy against the social stigma attached to mental health and other related illnesses. It also highlights the need for improved and accessible mental health services in our private and public health systems around the world. Mental health problems exist in our lives and our communities, and can impact anyone and everyone.”
This newspaper has had several editorials where it was pointed out that much discussion has been had locally about the mental health of citizens. While in many instances the topic was categorised as ‘taboo’ in many cultures, it came to fore as the COVID-19 pandemic took centre stage all around the world. It is well-known that the pandemic has taken a severe toll on the mental well-being of persons all over the world.
For example, the initial challenges of dealing with the lockdown measures, the fear of being infected with the virus or having to deal with the death of a loved one have caused tremendous stress and anxiety on many. All of this is added to the economic pressures that are brought on due to persons not being able to go out and work to support themselves and families.
Due to the lack of resources, many countries are unable to mount the kind of response that is needed to address the mental health challenges of their populations or many are forced to scale back the level of response needed due to other areas competing for scarce resources.
As Hamlet had stated in his writings, “I have of late – but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercise; and, indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory…”
Depression is part of the human condition and Hamlet’s description of its symptoms matches those in a modern medical textbook. The categorisation has become more precise, the treatments more advanced, but the illness is still badly understood and its consequences often hidden. Depression remains if not a source of shame, then at least bewilderment to those who suffer from it and those around them. Yet it is on the increase, neurotic disorders affecting one in six adults at some point in their lives. Society, and medical science, needs a better response.
Back in 2010, UK Journalist and the Guardian’s head of special projects, who led a team of Journalists investigating international trends and issues, Mark Rice-Oxley wrote powerfully of his “decline from unremarkable working dad of three to stranded depressive sitting on the floor doing simple jigsaws”.
His shock was not just at the crushing effect of a condition that seemed to come from nowhere, but the confusion about how to overcome it.
The truth is medical advances have controlled many diseases, but depression in its different forms is either becoming more common or being detected more often – and perhaps both. Pharmaceutical treatments, while restricted in their effectiveness, are being used much more widely.
However, part of the challenge is defining what is it to be depressed. The term has such a wide common meaning that it can be used to cover anything from passing grief to long-term illness. The Royal College of Psychiatrists lists typical symptoms: feeling utterly tired; feeling useless, inadequate and hopeless; and feeling unhappy most of the time among them. But there can be no medical exactitude to an illness experienced in different degrees and different ways by different people – only that you know it when it comes.
The human mind is the most extraordinary and least understood part of the body, the source of joy and creativity. It can also, as Hamlet knew, create the horror of depression: “This brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.”