History of World Mental Health Day

“You look so healthy, seems like you have no worries.” “Cheer up dude, it’s no big deal.” “Stop overthinking, you are just too much.” “Stop obsessing, move on.” “Don’t be lazy.” “Are you crazy?” “How dumb can you be?” Most of us have come across such insensitive reactions and a few of us might also be guilty of contempt. Lack of awareness and empathy, often results in such prejudiced behaviours. Many people do not understand what it is to live with mental illness. They cannot even imagine the struggle and pain. If one can’t see it, means it doesn’t exist, is it? Wrong. Let’s try to understand mental health issues with an analogy. Picture mental health disorders to be like termites. They eat you up from within, weaken your core, destroy the foundation and leave you extremely vulnerable, till you are completely hollow and collapse to environmental stressors. It’s not easy living with a parasite inside you. You need pest control to prevent further damage. Psychosocial interventions and self-care are the saviors, they are the cure. Now more than ever, there is a need for expansion in infrastructure, accessibility and outreach of mental health services for a pest- free, healthy and mentally balanced world.
World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, allowing stakeholders from all around the world to passionately engage with each other to create awareness, promote, advocate, relay credible information, kick-start revolution and mobilize support for the cause of mental health. Preparations span over months with the ultimate aim of making every single day a mental health day.

10th October, 1992 marked the beginning of World Mental Health Day. It was started as an annual activity for mental health by the Deputy Secretary General- Richard Hunter of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH). After 1992, October 10th of each year was announced as World Mental Health Day. In the initial years there was no specific theme. The objective was quite simple- to promote mental health advocacy and educate the masses to enhance awareness. For the first three years, the central activity of the day was to globally broadcast a two-hour-long telecast from the studios at Tallahassee, Florida. All WFMH members and various countries like Australia, Chile, England, Zambia, Geneva, Atlanta, and Mexico City participated in the telecast through live telephonic conversations or pre-taped segments. These telecasts were indeed very well received, popular and far-reaching.
It was only in 1994, by the suggestion of then Secretary General- Eugene Brody, a theme was introduced. The first ever theme of World Mental Health Day was- ‘Improving the quality of Mental Health Services throughout the world’. Setting up a theme enthused the stakeholders further. It ensured direction, planning, commitment, several extravagant events and increased participation in all aspects of mental health care.
In 1995, a plethora of elaborate international programs like the month-long series of events in Egypt, the conference organized by the French federation for Mental Health at the Ministry of Health, the community celebrations at the Micronesian islands in the Pacific etc., were reported. A landmark event amongst these was the plantation drive at the Old London Mental Hospital, commonly known as ‘Bedlam’. All events enjoyed tremendous participation, especially from people having lived experience with mental health issues.
In the same year, WFMH, in collaboration with Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) decided to diversify and make Mental Health Day Planning Kits available in other languages such as Spanish. Translation of the Planning Kits was arranged and consequently, the trend was followed and materials were translated to French, Spanish, Hindi, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Arabic.
Every year since 1995, WFMH meticulously planned a central theme to be promoted. The themes are categorized as follows:

Mental Health & Special populations
• Women and mental health (1996)
• Children and mental health (1997)
• Mental health and ageing (1999)
• Mental health and the working class (2000-2001)
• The effects of trauma and violence on children and adolescents (2002)
• Mental health and older adults (2013)
Mental Health & Related Policies:
• Mental health and human rights (1998)
• Making Mental Health a Global Priority: Scaling up Services through Citizen Advocacy and Action (2008)
Mental Health & Disorders:
• Emotional and behavioural disorders of children and adolescents (2003)
• The relationship between physical and mental health: co-occurring disorders (2004)
• Mental illness and chronic physical illness (2010)
• Depression: A Global Crisis (2012)
• Living with schizophrenia (2014)
Affordability, Accessibility & Availability:
• The great push: investing in mental health (2011)
• Mental Health in Primary Care: Enhancing Treatment and Promoting Mental Health (2009)
• Psychological and mental health first aid (2016)
Prevention and promotion:
• Building Awareness – Reducing Risk: Mental Illness & Suicide (2006)
• Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention (2019)
Changing the worldview regarding mental illness:
• Mental and physical health across the lifespan (2005)
• Mental health in changing world: the impact of culture and diversity (2007)
• Dignity in mental health (2015)
• Mental Health in the Workplace (2017)
• Young people and mental health in a changing world (2018)

World Mental Health Day, 2020:
World Mental Health Day is definitely not a one-day event as relentless preparations occur all through the year. This year with the pandemic taking over the world, mental health has taken a nose-dive and is only doomed to worsen, if appropriate measures aren’t taken. The necessity of mental health has been highlighted and with inflamed conversations regarding the matter, this year’s theme and events are in the spot-light.

Theme-Mental Health for All: Greater Investment and Greater Access
Statistics present that Mental Health has hardly ever been prioritized leading to alarming rates of Mental Health Issues and Disorders going undetected. About one billion people live with mental disorders, 3 million people die annually due to consumption and abuse of substances, and there is one death by suicide every 40 seconds. The current pandemic is further jeopardizing the state of mental health, leaving many more people vulnerable to illness. Even though the world is amidst a mental health crisis, the statistics are appalling, and the conditions are worsening; less than 20% of the population in low-middle income countries receive quality mental health care. Affordability, stigma, discrimination, punitive legislation, and abuse of human rights still pose barriers to the availability and accessibility of mental health services. This year, COVID-19 added the risk of infection in long-stay facilities like care homes and psychiatric institutions, restricted face-to-face meetings, exposed mental health professionals to infection, and shut down mental health facilities to convert them into Covid-care units; all contributing to escalating the severity of mental health conditions.
Realizing the gravity of the situation and the inadequacy in mental health related expenditure, WHO, along with its partner organizations-United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health, is calling for a massive scale-up in investment and is encouraging public action around the world through this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign- ‘Move for mental health: Let’s Invest’.
Key events for Mental Health Day, 2020:

• A 24 hours Virtual March has been planned for 9th October. A live-stream- ‘Speak Your Mind Campaign’, featuring mental health leaders, influencers and people with lived experiences of mental health issues will be broadcasted world-wide. Leading international organizations like Human Rights Watch, Alzheimer’s Disease International etc. will also conduct hour-long sessions on specific themes, including mental health and young people, mental health and older people, mental health and the LGBTQ+ community and so on. The Virtual March will help increase awareness, eradicate stigma and initiate policy change by encouraging the public to voice their opinions through innovative online filters.

• The Big Event for Mental Health- for the very first time, WHO will host a Global Online Advocacy Event on Mental Health wherein it will showcase initiatives taken over the years to mitigate mental illness and the harmful use of alcohol and drugs. Mental Health experts, musicians and sportspersons will also join in to share their experiences and pledge to the cause of mental health. During the Event, a Special Prize for a mental health film, a newly-created category of WHO’s inaugural Health for All Film Festival, will be awarded.

• The Federation’s campaign is scheduled to be inaugurated on 1st September, with the President launching the World Mental Health Day Campaign Educational Material titled, ‘Mental Health for All: Greater Investment – Greater Access’. The campaign will be launched under the Royal Patronage of HRH Princess Iman Afzan Al-Sultan Abdullah of Malaysia. A Call for Action will be delivered by Pamela Y. Collins and Deepa Rao, followed by 45 days of awareness-raising activities led by the Federation’s youth section, including a global online discussion forum and art exhibition.

What can we do? JOIN THE MOVEMENT!
We all can contribute to the World Mental Health Day celebrations in our own personal capacities by inviting one and all to:
ENVISION a world where mental health becomes a priority to all.
BUILD awareness and normalize mental health issues.
IGNITE discussions regarding mental health and practice self-care as a routine in all institutions and home.
CELEBRATE those who have overcome their mental health challenges
EMPOWER people to raise their voices and obtain the mental health care they deserve.

First, we can take a sincere pledge to give equal importance to mental health as we do to physical health. Second, we can try our best to eliminate all negative distractions that adversely affect our emotional stability and mental health by setting boundaries for self-protection and expressing gratitude and appreciation for positive influences in our life. Third, we must make self-care a habit. Fourth, we should resolve to express ourselves freely and seek counselling when the need arises. Fifth, we must do our bit to spread awareness and end stigma attached to mental illness. Sixth, we should participate in community initiatives and contribute towards mental health. Last but not the least, we can try to extend support to our near and dear ones in need.

Written by:
Ms. Anshruta Deepkumar & Ms. Jane Maria

Guided by:
Ms. Kruthika Muralinath

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