With as many as one out of four global citizens suffering from mental illness, this issue affects almost everyone. The WHO is advocating for both prevention and promotion when it comes to mental health – a concept we explore more fully in this post.
Mental illness is one of the single greatest health issues that modern society faces. And yet, even as hundreds of millions of people suffer from mental health problems around the world, our ability to diagnose and stay ahead of these problems often lags behind. Unfortunately, professionals have to focus more energy on treating mental illness than on actually preventing it.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in four people suffer from mental illness. This is an epidemic of global proportions, and WHO is working hard to address it. In this post, we’re going to explore the two-prong measure WHO recommends to address this problem – prevention and promotion.
Mental Health Promotion
When agencies like the World Health Organisation talk about promotion in the context of mental health, what they’re really talking about is equipping people to live happier and healthier lives. Rather than trying to deal with mental health issues as they arise, this approach is all about creating an atmosphere in which a person’s mental health is much more likely to flourish.
The first step to accomplishing this is eliminating mental illness risk factors from people’s lives. On the surface, this may seem like prevention (more on that in the next section), but it actually has more to do with the promotion of mental wellness when taken in the context of creating a more positive environment.
According to WHO, mental health promotion will only be successful in an environment that “protects basic civil, political, socio-economic and cultural rights”. These basic provisions provide a person with the freedom they need to pursue their own best interests and live a happy and fulfilled life.
Admittedly, those are fairly vague parameters, but WHO offers a few examples on how to accomplish this. Specifically, they advise intersectoral action (IA), which is just a fancy way of referring to programmes or initiatives that come from outside the healthcare sector – even if they operate in partnership with it.
Mental Health Initiatives: Intersectional Action
IAs could be organised by government agencies, local organisations, community outreach programmes. In every case, this sort of third-party involvement leads to more collaboration between the healthcare sector and other organisations. What emerges as a result is a more robust strategy for promoting mental wellness across our communities.
To give you an idea of what IAs would look like on a community level in Dhaka, consider these three examples provided by WHO:
- Creating programmes to support indigenous people, migrant workers, minorities, those affected by disasters and other vulnerable people
- Arranging home visits for pregnant women to ensure the mental wellness of the mother and to support her in creating a healthy, nurturing environment for her baby
- Creating support for children through youth-development programmes and school activities that promote mental health
These are just a few illustrations, but they demonstrate the way that some preventative programmes actually promote better mental health in a community. As an example, a violence-prevention programme in a local community has nothing to do with preventing mental illness (at least not directly), but it has everything to do with promoting mental wellness. This is how promotion works in the context of mental health.
Mental Illness Prevention
While mental health promotion focuses on creating positive environments, mental illness prevention is all about combatting negative ones. In this case, we’re not focusing developing an environment that promotes mental health. Instead, we’re actively searching for situations in which problems could occur and doing our best to correct them.
The operative word here is intervention. WHO outlines four levels of intervention that can be used to stop mental illness from developing or getting worse. They progress from broad and general to very specific:
- Universal interventions: These deal with educating the general public about mental illness, regardless of whether the people being educated have shown signs of mental illness. Building awareness at schools or community centres would qualify.
- Selective interventions: At this level, we focus on building awareness for at-risk groups. Support groups for battered wives or abused children are both good examples. Implementing programme like this requires identifying situations in which mental illness is likely to develop, such as this study did in the slums of Dhaka.
- Indicated interventions: This is a more focused level, at which programmes are designed to help people who have already shown signs of mental illness – even if they have not been diagnosed. Ideally, interventions at this level would help people whose mental health is already beginning to deteriorate.
- Treatment interventions: Treatment is reserved specifically for people who have been diagnosed with mental illness. For a diagnosis to happen, a person will have already seen a mental health professional, and the treatment programme that is designed for them will address their specific needs.
To get a better idea of how these preventative measures progress, have a look at this pyramid-shaped diagram published by WHO.
The Cabin Dhaka’s Role in Prevention and Promotion
At The Cabin Dhaka, we operate primarily in the later stages of prevention. The clients that we serve have come to us because they’re experiencing symptoms of mental illness. In some cases, we can help them obtain a diagnosis. In others, they’ve already been diagnosed, and we work with them to design a tailored treatment programme.
Our team of treatment providers are also hard at work in the local community, collaborating with other organisations that are working to promote stronger mental wellness in the area. For example, our programme director, Alistair Mordey, works closely with the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) in Dhaka. Cutting down on the trafficking and distribution of addictive substances in Dhaka in an important way to promote stronger mental health for the people who live here.
If you or your loved one is struggling with mental health concerns, remember: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Help is just a click away – contact us through our website or by calling us on +88 0177 152 8086 to learn how we can help you start living your best life.