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“If we want to truly tackle mental health, we need to address mental illnesses not only as personal challenges but as a public health crisis.”

Statement from Adam Karpati, Senior Vice President of Public Health Programs, Vital Strategies, on World Mental Health Day, Oct. 10, 2021: 

Oct. 10, 2021 – When we think about ourselves, our families and our communities, we understand the burden of mental illnesses intuitively. We know that mental trauma is everywhere and tragically evident for children and adults experiencing armed conflicts, population displacement, racism and discrimination, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic. Poor mental health and mental illnesses are incredibly common, yet, often, our perception of mental health remains that it is solely a personal issue. It is not. 

If we want to truly reduce the substantial burden of mental illnesses, we need to treat mental illnesses not only as personal challenges but as a public health crisis. Nearly one billion people around the world have a mental disorder, including mental illnesses such as depression anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia, as well as substance use disorders and dementias. Depression is a leading cause of illness and death for young adults. And every four seconds a person dies by suicide.  

Social and environmental factors can powerfully influence a person’s mental health. When we see soaring rates of mental illness, substance use and suicide in populations – that’s not only the sum of many individuals’ personal experiences but rather reflects the failures of our systems of care and support. Just as a healthy diet relies on the availability of fresh foods, and safe streets depend on speeding limits—mental health requires policies and practices that prevent trauma and make it easy for everyone to get help, support and care. 

Our prevailing attitude toward mental illness places the onus of responsibility on the individual. On World Mental Health Day, it’s time to change the narrative.  

This will require a whole of community approach – activating civil society, faith institutions, schools and workplaces, so everyone can recognize when people are in need and facilitate supportive care. Governments must also remove the silos between mental health and physical health by integrating services into primary care and public health systems, and by promoting innovative and effective approaches including community health worker-delivered care, telemedicine, and digital tools, making it possible for more people to access the best available treatments. Prevention must be central to this work, as mental illness can start early – preventing adverse childhood experiences, promoting early childhood development including early detection and treatment of mental illness in adolescence and young adulthood can prevent and mitigate mental illness later in life. 

Mental health is public health. If we want to effectively tackle mental health, we need to embrace a public health approach that recognizes the social factors that contribute to mental illness  and the ways the institutions in our communities can be activated and empowered to take action. 

About Vital Strategies  

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.