Can we all talk about mental health a little bit more please?

CAN we all talk about mental health? As we continue to live in unprecedented times mental health is something, we all need to be discussing more openly to progress in preventing suicide.

Bills are mounting up for most of us as work and existing hours are not guaranteed, there is a lot of pressure to keep our heads above water.

In Malta, they have recently launched a campaign to encourage people to open up and break down the taboo surrounding mental health.

The President of the Maltese Association of Psychiatry (MAP) Nigel Camilleri said that “we need to talk about suicide and mental health more often, and mental health has to be considered in all social care and welfare policies as it is crucial in a society that people are well educated on the matter.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), close to 800,000 people die due to suicide yearly, and there are many more who attempt suicide.

Suicide is a global phenomenon that can happen to anyone in all regions of the world as no one is immune to mental health disorders and it can affect anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic background, age and gender. Everyone on the planet is at risk.

The WHO registered that 79 per cent of global suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries in 2016, and it is the third leading cause of death in 15-19-year olds.

Shockingly in this digital age, as we are given the opportunity to source information at the click of a button and educate ourselves, the internet has a dark side and bullying amongst teens is a serious problem. In comparison to verbal bullying, a research study showed that adolescents who reported cyberbullying were 11.5 per cent more likely to have suicidal thoughts, while those who have reported verbal bullying were only 8.4 per cent more likely.

For World Suicide Prevention Day, marked on September 10, the Commissioner for Mental Health John M Cachia said that two to three people in Malta die by suicide each month with around 90 per cent of such deaths being males.

Camilleri explained that the same way parents talk with their adolescents when they are growing up about topics such as sex education, drugs and alcohol, children need to be well educated on mental health as it is of utmost importance to address the matter.

In addition, the same way that parents take their children to a paediatrician for a check-up, they should start taking their children or adolescents to a child mental health worker for a check-up as this is just as important, Camilleri said.

Psychiatrist Rachel Taylor East explained the main purpose of the association, explaining that MAP is committed to reducing suicide and improving support for those bereaved or affected by suicide.

“We aim to achieve the highest standards of care through education, training, advocacy and research. We promote best practice in mental health services. We collaborate with key players in the mental health field and are champions for improvements in the quality of mental healthcare throughout all sectors of society.”

She explained that public education and advocacy “is at the heart of our activities.”

“We strive to maximise our influence on mental health and related policies for Malta, and we will collaborate with relevant bodies to promote evidence-based suicide prevention initiatives,” she said.

Camilleri added that “last year, as an association, we worked with the Ministry of Education in order to introduce mental health literacy within the curriculum.”

Mental health literacy involves talking about topics such as stress and learning how to deal with it.

“We often hear that stress is increasing and we get the impression that stress is all bad, however, it is important to acknowledge the fact that stress is not all negative as one type of stress can make us stronger and more resilient, whilst another type of stress can mentally destroy us as it is simply toxic.”

As an association, MAP has a number of priorities in suicide prevention. These include advocating for adequate recruitment and retention of the mental health workforce, including training, promoting the highest standards of assessing and responding to patients at risk of suicide or engaging in self-harm, promoting excellence in the care of patients at risk of suicide, promoting appropriate media coverage of mental disorder to reduce stigma and suicide contagion, to lobby government to commit to a National Suicide Prevention Strategy and contribute to public policy, and lastly, to lobby mental health services to develop postvention: supporting families, friends professionals and peers.

Another important aspect which might be beneficial in preventing suicide involves carefully listening to others. It is important to keep in mind that such a situation should never be belittled and considered as a cry for help as this is simply demeaning.

Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously.

Certain signs might include talk of death and suicide more often, or experiencing behavioural changes. Also, completely closing things in an abnormal way could be a sign of someone thinking of suicide. This might include writing a suicide note, closing off accounts or wanting to write a will when they are relatively young and healthy.

In addition, people who think of ending their life generally make sure that everyone around them is fine. Therefore, the process is thought beforehand.

Apart from people who die by suicide, others who try to take their own lives are important to acknowledge.

There is a greater chance that people who attempt suicide will do it again Camilleri said.

Many studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many mixed emotions including fear, distress, sadness, loneliness and instability.

The drastic change in our new way of life has led to the exacerbation of existing mental illness such as anxiety and depression.

International health organisations are referring to a Mental Health pandemic being the second wave of COVID-19. Governments are being urged to invest more in mental health care in order to be prepared and have the ability to deal with such a situation. Malta is one of many countries reaching out and asking its residents to seek support if they need it.

“In Malta, we are not immune. Without mental health, there can be no true physical health. The less the country invests in mental health, the worse the outcome is, including suicide. Therefore, as an association, we want to see mental health at the heart of the public health agenda, especially at this time, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to see services funded and expanded,” they said.

If the situation is not urgent and you are worried about someone who is in distress and is suicidal, one can seek professional advice from someone who understands such as a social worker, psychologist, nurse and psychiatrist, amongst others. It may also be worth speaking to your private health insurer as they often have inclusions for mental health on your policy.

Golden Leaves health insurance expert Emma explained ‘When you are living overseas it can be difficult to seek medical help, a lot of people are intimidated by not speaking the language. With our policies, we offer specialists who are bilingual and the staff at Golden Leaves are bilingual too which often puts people at ease.’

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Written by

Charlie Loran

Manchester born mummy with a two year old diva (2020), living on the Costa del Sol for just short of a decade.
Former chef and restaurateur, holistic health fanatic and lover of long words.

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