According to the WHO World Mental Health report published in June 2022, depression and anxiety rose by 25% in the first year of the pandemic, bringing the number of people living with a mental disorder to nearly one billion people.
To address some of the current challenges related to mental health, a Think Tank took place at the European Parliament in Brussels on 22 May, hosted by MEP Ryszard Czarnecki and chaired by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The Think Tank addressed and discussed innovative solutions to improve mental health that can be scaled up for global impact, the interconnection between mental health and peacebuilding, the latest research on mental health and mental health efforts as a competitive advantage in the workspace.
“Mental health is one of the greatest challenges the world is facing today. Whether it is in developing or developed countries, in war or peace zones, it is an issue that affects the entire world”, said Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Despite the worrying increase of mental health issues, however, there is still a prejudice around it, Gurudev stressed. A person cannot be treated unless they admit they have an issue and need help, which is already a courageous first step, but in today’s judgemental world, such an admission could put their job or relationships at stake, so people tend to hide their problems.
Stress is one of the biggest causes of mental health, which can be managed through a healthy life balance, but for that people “need a little bit of care and attention”. Unlike with physical health however, there are no “mental hygiene” courses in school. “More than half of the violence in the world comes from mental health challenges”, Shankar said. “In the US, more than 600 mass shootings have happened over the past 6 months. The cause for this is mental health.”
To reduce mental health issues around the world, we first need to address the societal prejudice, but then the different type of prejudice we harbour within ourselves, related to gender, religion, class or cast, Gurudev advised. Yoga and meditation can also greatly contribute to a healthy lifestyle, while social interaction, not through social media, but meeting people in real life, can help heal trauma.
“The mission of politics is to ensure the common good, nationally and globally, but we can’t ensure common good based of fear and anger”, said Alojz Peterle, Former Prime Minister of Slovenia.
“I am not a doctor, but I understand that a fragmented world means fragmented people and the more fragmented we are, the more mental health issues we will have”, said Alojz Peterle, exemplifying how suicide rates in Slovenia decreased by 10% after the country joined the European Union, as people had new hope brough on by the sense of belonging to a community sharing the same values and principles.
“No single organisation can handle the mental health crisis alone. Governments, healthcare institutions and NGOs must join forces to create comprehensive mental health strategies. Together we can create a healthier and more resilient society”, Czarnecki said.
In Poland, a mental health plan has been implemented in centres across the country to help communities free of charge, explained Polish Minister of Health Adam Niedzielski. The treatment plans are developed by specialists based on their relations with the person experiencing the mental health crisis. And, since 2019, 380 of these centres have been dedicated to children and adolescents.
“A sad face should not be allowed to exist because each one of us should take responsibility to bring the factor of happiness, then we can make society a better place”, Shankar pointed out.
Moreover, since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Poland set has up medical centres for mental health along the border as well as across the country to support Ukrainian refugees in their trauma recovery, providing them equal access to healthcare as to Polish citizens and conducting information campaigns in refugee camps. “Wars do not only cause physical wounds, but also wounds to the mind, which can be harder to heal”, Gurudev said.
Shankar’s International Association for Human Values (IAHV) and Art of Living have also managed to set up over 400 workshops for Ukrainians both inside Ukraine and in Europe, helping more than 5,000 Ukrainians currently located in over 20 countries. They were taught how to self-manage stress, insomnia, despair ad traumatic symptoms.
Image: Aris Setya