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Understanding mental health

Once again World Mental Health Day was observed on October 10. The theme for this year was suicide prevention, but just one day dedicated to this cause is little more than a formality and unlikely to have a significant impact.

Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide. According to the World Health Organisation, around 800,000 people die by suicide each year. Suicide occurs throughout life and all regions of the world. It is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years globally. Mental illness and depression are expected to become the leading cause of death by 2020.

The link between suicide and mental health has been well-established. Depression, alcohol abuse and drug use are some of the main causes. Many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crises. Other risk factors include experience of personal loss, financial problems, loneliness, relationship break-up, discrimination, illness, violence, abuse or conflict.

With the multitude of risk factors at play, preventing suicide becomes a serious challenge but one which we can all overcome. Most often people with mental health issues are belittled, their concerns dismissed, and thus discourse on the issue remains extremely limited. There is a need to help youth develop skills to cope with life’s pressures. Mental health should not be a taboo subject; the first step is to realise that you are undergoing a serious problem and seek help.

Mental health awareness has always been a constant struggle in a country such as Pakistan where psychiatric services and resources are limited. Mental disorders are on the rise, especially depression. Too often, religion has been touted as the panacea to all these problems. More alarmingly, Pakistan’s rate of depression is four times higher than the rest of the world. There is a need to raise awareness of the crisis and erase the societal stigma against mental illness.

There is no doubt that suicide is devastating. It ends one life and shatters countless others. But we need to bring suicide out from the shadows to understand the causes and an urgent approach to prevent it. The worst thing a person suffering from depression wants to hear is that they should overcome it. We need to deliver a message of hope and support those experiencing less trauma and distress. Every step that we take towards preventing suicide and improving mental health will make us a mentally healthier society.

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