Community engagement necessary to dispel mental health stigmas, say experts

ABU DHABI, Every year on the 10th of October, World Mental Health Day is recognised and celebrated with the general goal to raise awareness around mental health and mobilise a movement to dispel the stigma and start a conversation.

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, more than 450 million individuals globally have experienced some form of a mental health disorder and one in four individuals during their lifetime will develop a mental or behavioural disorder. As mental health support is crucial, it can, however, be tricky for people to know how to support someone going through mental health challenges.

Aakanksha Tangri, Founder of Re:Set – an inclusive, online platform that seeks to dispel stigmas on mental health and special needs, said that there are tools to help those who may be hesitant to seek help.

“Individual communities need to take steps to build a support group for family and friends, creating a safe space which allows for the freedom to express feelings without judgement,” she explained.

“Mental health is not binary, it’s not about being sick or healthy,” Tangri noted, adding that there is an “in-between state” where the signs and symptoms of mental disorders might not be obvious.

She stressed, “We, as a society, should strive to pick up our fellow human beings. Something as small as checking up on your neighbour or colleague could have a beneficial effect on someone’s mental well-being by providing a reminder that someone is always there to listen.”

According to Ayukta Thakur, co-founder of Integreat Centre – Dubai’s first holistic centre for young adults with special needs, saying statements such as “don’t give up” and “just keep fighting” can actually stunt people’s willingness to seek out advice when going through mental health struggles.

“Our job as a community should be to encourage and embolden people to seek mental health support, normalise vulnerability and to destroy the illusion of a seemingly ‘perfect state of mind’,” Thakur affirmed.

Despite statistics from WHO showing that Dubai and the UAE are currently behind the global average in terms of the amount of psychiatrists and psychiatric beds per 100,000 population, local authorities are taking active steps to change the conversation on mental health, making it a key priority area for the country’s health care sector.

Earlier this January, the Dubai Health Authority organised the Dubai Health Forum to introduce nine new initiatives for a mental health strategy. The initiatives include mental health legislation; governance and regulation; promotion and awareness; prevention; early intervention; innovative models of service delivery; workforce development, recruitment and retention; facilities and infrastructure, and patient empowerment programmes.

Unlike physical health, because of the stigma, mental health is not generally discussed publicly, and that needs to change. “It is OK to say I’m not OK,” says Dr. Catherine Frogley, a clinical psychologist, based in Dubai, when speaking on the significance of normalising the need to seek therapy. “Talking about your feelings sets a good example and is a helpful strategy to make people feel comfortable when speaking about their mental health.”

“It comes back to building awareness and education about the significance of mental health support. Also making the whole community open to talking about seeking therapy,” Dr. Frogley added.

World Mental Health Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.

Source: Emirates News Agency