Mental health issues should be prioritized

Mental health issues should be prioritized

WHO (REUTERS/Pierre Albouy)

It is completely normal to cry regardless of your gender
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The World Health Organization (WHO) at the end of February declared depression as the single leading cause of disability worldwide.

An estimated 322 million people suffered from depressive disorders in 2015, indicating an 18.4 percent increase in a decade, as stated in the report released by the United Nations agency.

The report further stated that depression is often referred to as a common mental disorder, which also includes anxiety disorders. These conditions are highly prevalent in todays population and impact the mood or feelings of affected individuals.

While depression is characterized by sadness, tiredness, loss of interest or pleasure, and feelings of guilt or low self-worth, anxiety disorders refer to a group of mental disorders characterized by feelings of anxiety and fear. The group includes Generalized Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobias, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

With both depression and anxiety, symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Breaking down the terms

The American Psychiatric Association describes depression as a common and serious mental illness that negatively affects the way one feels, thinks, and acts. It causes feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed. It also stresses that depression is distinctly different from sadness or grief.

Although both grief and depression may involve intense sadness and withdrawal from usual activities, they are different in some crucial aspects, including the fact that self-esteem is usually maintained during grief, while feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing are common during depression.

As for anxiety disorders, they are rather distinct from common feelings of fear and worry.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

While worry tends to be more specific, anxiety is more diffused. It is often caused by concerns that are not realistic and triggered by issues that were not existent to begin with. Worry is also controllable, while anxiety is much less so. Sufferers would have difficulty to bring themselves out of anxiousness, and the overwhelming fear can take over their whole mind.

Depression and Anxiety in Indonesia

The report released by the WHO showed that Indonesia housed over 9 million cases of depression and over 8 million cases of anxiety disorders in 2015, placing the country in the second position with the highest prevalence of cases in the South-East Asian region after India.

The predominant challenge in combating common mental disorders often lies in the stigma around it. In Indonesia, especially, people with common mental disorders are often reluctant to seek professional help in fear of being discovered and being stamped as a crazy person.

Indri Mahadiraka, founder of mental healthcare platform Save Yourselves Indonesia, told Antara here on Tuesday that awareness around mental disorders is still rather low, especially among youth.

"How often do you hear someone say things like Youre depressed? You are so hyperbolic, Quit being so sad, Men do not cry, and other negative comments, when in reality, a lot of people suffer from depression and anxiety, and it is completely normal to cry regardless of your gender," she remarked.

She noticed that a lot of people often resort to the Internet to share their stories, including through Facebook statuses and anonymous sharing applications such as Secret and Whisper.

Mahadiraka then decided to create an Internet-based platform that can raise awareness on mental health in the Indonesian community and provide fast and sufficient help for anyone who is in need of relief from mental disorders.

"It is accessible and easy, and people can have a platform to share their stories and even create a supportive community for each other," she remarked.

The online platform quickly grew into a real-life community. On March 3, Save Yourselves Indonesia held its first offline gathering.

"Some people started crying, and there were some other who suddenly showed everyone the medication that they were taking," she stated.

"We had someone who previously contacted our suicide hotline and shared her story on how we saved her life. It was beyond expectations, as the participants came with grim faces and left with a smile," she revealed.

Save Yourselves Indonesia is a mental healthcare platform for consultation, education, and suicide prevention that was started by Mahadiraka as a startup competition project.

As part of her research prior to establishing the platform, she admitted to have contacted every suicide prevention hotline in Indonesia, but the results were rather disappointing.

"None of them were active, even the one established by the Ministry of Health. I think that is the biggest missing link in the communities in Indonesia," she reiterated.

It has been stressed repeatedly in a number different platform that the battle against mental illness means fighting the stigma around it. As the WHO report suggests, mental health issues pose real, tangible threats to communities around the world and need to be treated as a priority by governments as well as communities.

A lot of people fail to recognize mental disorders as a real problem simply because in most of them, there are no distinct physical symptoms that emerge.

Breaking down the stigma can start from the mental disorder of sufferers themselves. The more they open up and share their personal experiences of living with depression or anxiety the more it enables the communities to expose the real and concrete image of mental health.

However, it is apparent that those who are suffering from anxiety and/or depression are reluctant to reveal themselves due to the negative and vague image of mental illness among the public.

Under these conditions, governments and prominent people need to further promote awareness on mental health and disorders. Ultimately, the community will be a much friendlier place for those living with certain mental conditions, and they will no longer be restrained from seeking professional help.

"Mental health should be a priority, but a lot of people do not realize that. It is not shameful or embarrassing to admit that you need help," Mahadiraka stated.