World Mental Health Day 2015: Addressing mental health in the poorest communities of the world

Heather Pearson.
Author:Heather Pearson
Posted on: Thursday, 8th October, 2015

October 10th is World Mental Health Day. This year we address a key issue facing people living with psychosocial disabilities (disabilities caused by mental illness): dignity.

The theme chosen for October 10, 2015 is "Dignity in mental health". The word ‘dignity’ comes from the Latin word meaning worthiness.  It is the idea that everyone has the right to be valued and respected. But taking it one step further, dignity is also about how people feel: treating someone in a way that they feel valued and feel respected. When people are living with dignity, they feel confident and they are able to make decisions for themselves. Worldwide, high levels of stigma and discrimination strip people with psychosocial disabilities of dignity and prevent them from the experience of living as, and being treated as, equal members of society. At CBM, we believe that all people with disabilities deserve to live in a world that treats them with dignity. Here are 3 ways that we believe can promote the dignity of people with psychosocial disabilities:

1) Creating accessible, people-centred care following a humanitarian emergency

Knowing that disasters can negatively influence the mental health of a population, CBM sees humanitarian emergencies as an opportunity to ‘build back better.’ In Sierra Leone, for example, the Ebola virus disease outbreak impacted the mental health of the country in many ways. Not one person was excluded from the experience of stress, fear and loss. CBM used this opportunity to mobilize resources and establish, with other partners, 14 mental health units across the country. Previous to the outbreak, mental health care was only available at the Psychiatric Hospital and in a couple of health units outside of the capital city. Similarly, in the Philippines, following Typhoon Haiyan, CBM used the opportunity to establish mental health units with trained staff who could visit and support people with psychosocial disabilities in their communities. Creating accessible mental health care following an emergency seeks to reduce the long term psychological impacts of a disaster. However, it also brings care closer to people with psychosocial disabilities, allowing them to rebuild their lives with dignity: close to their homes and families with trained staff who treat them with respect.

2) Supporting opportunities for voices to be heard

An important part of dignity is providing people with the opportunity to make choices and to have control in their lives. It is not enough to speak on behalf of people with psychosocial disabilities. Instead, what is needed is environments that offer support and build confidence, so that people with psychosocial disabilities can find and use their voices. Maya Angelou put it best when she defined dignity: “Dignity. It means a belief in oneself, that one is worthy of the best. It means that what I have to say is important, and I will say it when it’s important for me to say it. Dignity really means that I deserve the best treatment I can receive. And that I have the responsibility to give the best treatment I can to other people.” Since 2008, CBM has supported the Presbyterian Community Based Rehabilitation (PCBR) programme based in Northern Ghana, to establish self-help groups (SHGs) with the aim of providing mutual support, and enabling people to re-enter the community, both socially and economically. Now, with over 23 SHGs throughout the upper east region, the groups provide an important source of support to people with psychosocial disabilities and their families. Through the groups, members have been able to challenge discrimination, share support and advice, and attain financial security in a resource poor setting.

3) Advocating for change in global priorities

While local developments, such as the establishment of services and self-help groups, are necessary to promote dignity, progress on a global level is equally important. In September, 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched. The SDGs build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and clearly state the priorities for governments and development agencies over the next 15 years. During the drafting process, FundaMentalSDG was formed: an alliance of organizations who believe in a common vision of seeing the SDGs consider the needs of people with psychosocial disabilities. When the UN adopted the SDGs in September this year, we saw the exciting inclusion of mental health and well-being in the document. This success is in part due to the work of FundaMentalSDG, of which CBM is a founding member. Mental health was not mentioned in the MDGs. Therefore, the inclusion of mental health and well-being in the SDGs indicates an increased respect for people with psychosocial disabilities on a global level. Equally important, we anticipate a greater investment in interventions that will lead to less human rights abuses against people with psychosocial disabilities. On World Mental Health Day 2015, we are promoting the value and worth of people living with psychosocial disabilities. Whether we invest in improving access to care, the establishment of self-help groups or changing global priorities …it should all be done in the name of dignity. “Things have a price and can be for sale but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things.”  - Pope Francis

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