Mental Health in Yemen
Mental health in Yemen requires attention due to the country’s ongoing troubles. For six years now, Yemen has been facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world—more than 80% of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children who have no hand in the fight for power and status. To make the matter worse, the outburst of COVID-19 drove the country into “an emergency within an emergency.”

Only half of Yemen’s health facilities are capable of functioning in the worst of circumstances, and amidst the shortage of masks, gloves, clean water and sanitation, the number of cases rose up to 2,221 as of February 25, 2021, with 624 losing their lives due to the lack of supplies to treat the virus. The country is facing a huge crisis, and the crisis is affecting the mental health of its citizens as much as their physical bodies. Amidst the lack of functioning facilities and death surrounding them from every direction, the increased pressure on the Yemenis worsened their mental health further. Here is some information about mental health in Yemen.

Mental Health in Yemen

Due to the crippling stress on the backs of the Yemeni people, an estimate of one in five people in Yemen suffer from a mental health disorder, according to a study that the Family Counselling and Development Foundation conducted in 2017; this includes depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Moreover, due to the lack of education and facilities, the number of psychiatrists is small with almost 0.2 psychiatrists per 100,000 people as of 2016. This amounts to 40 psychiatrists for the entire population. Additionally, to add to the misery and the deteriorating mental health in Yemen, some of the few existing mental health services closed due to the pandemic.

UNFPA and Psychological Support Centers

However, amidst all the odds, and all the difficulties that Yemen is facing in trying to stay afloat, UNFPA has not ceased to offer its mental health services to the survivors of gender-based violence and improve the mental health in Yemen. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the United Nations sector that works
to protect youth’s potential and ensures that every childbirth is safe.

In the beginning, social workers carried out the work, however, in 2018, the UNFPA offered its help and assistance through psychological support centers as well. These centers were capable of providing “specialized and clinical mental health care, including through telephone assistance.” Currently, even during the coronavirus outbreak, six UNFPA- supported psychological centers are operating and helping those in need—the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid provides support to two of these centers that provide crucial assistance to the Yemenis when they need it most.

Due to the increased demands for mental support, UNFPA increased the number of counselors available for people’s convenience. The counselors became available to deliver telecounseling services via 18 toll-free telecounseling hotlines in order to assist survivors of gender-based violence and educate the population on COVID-19 prevention. The results were so impressive: nearly 18,000 people received specialized psychological support through the toll-free hotline from 2018. Moreover, more than 25,000 survivors of violence received psychological support in the form of in-person counseling. UNFPA aims to help assist 5.5 million people via essential and life-saving services by 2019.

The Internationational Organization of Migration (IOM)

Moreover, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) provides a safe place for children to escape from the blood and hunger in the country they must reside in—a place to feel a sense of normalcy and to live in the beauty of their childhood, even for a few hours. The children participate in a variety of activities to help them learn and play, such as storytelling, artwork and more.

Beginning in March 2016, IOM offered community-based psychosocial support to nearly 400,000 children. More than half of these children watched their homes getting destroyed and had to live in informal sites.

Yemen has been facing a depilating economic and social crisis until now, and this has been affecting mental health in Yemen every day. However, with the help of various organizations, the citizens of Yemen will receive sufficient treatment and care to help rebuild their country gradually.

– Reem Agha
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Morocco
A 60-year-old royal decree largely dictates mental health in Morocco, but the government and outside institutions have been working to address this outdated decree in the last decades. A Dahir, or King’s decree, emerged in 1959, which determines Morocco’s mental health program, rights of patients and other aspects. Due to the inadequacy of the law, the Ministry of Health has and still is working on a new law to address treatment for mental health in Morocco.

The Current Situation for Mental Health in Morocco

In 2009, the government published a mental health profile of the country’s general population. The government’s report on mental health in the country used a random sample that it took of the population. Researchers interviewed nearly 5,500 people and over 40% of those interviewed had an active mental disorder.

Mental health disorders were more frequent among women, the divorced, unemployed and those in urban areas. More recent data on Moroccan mental health add credence to these older findings.

A 2019 study in the Annals of General Psychiatry outlined that one in five children in Morocco suffered from insomnia, depression or anxiety. Half of the mental health issues in Morocco’s children started at the age of 14. The Moroccan Ministry of Health published that nearly half of all adolescents it studied suffer from a mental health disorder. Morocco’s adolescents make up nearly 9% of the country’s total population. Outside institutions like the World Bank state that women and those who are young require special attention. The World Bank described the important relationship between education, work productivity, family care and mental health.

Solutions

The Moroccan government and the World Health Organization (WHO) are addressing mental health shortcomings with three major goals; drafting new legislation on mental health, building more hospitals and increasing the psychiatric workforce. The WHO’s “Country Cooperation Strategy for 2017-2021″ focuses on the entirety of the health care system in Morocco. However, legislative scrutiny is addressing mental health in Morocco, specifically.

Addressing the 1959 Dahir

The government adopted draft legislation in 2015 that addressed the outdated nature of the 1959 Dahir. The law emerged to protect the rights of those with mental health disorders. After scrutiny from health care professionals in Morocco, the government announced that the law would go under review in consultation with the Moroccan Society of Psychiatry or other leaders in the mental health field. The draft law is currently still under review.

Building More Psychiatric Hospitals

Morocco’s mental health infrastructure is currently getting a boost. The government is building psychiatric hospitals, one of which has already started construction. These hospitals are part of a greater initiative to increase regional access to health care. In fact, a psychiatric clinic finished construction in late 2020. All of these health infrastructure creations are part of a cooperative between the WHO and Morocco.

Increasing the Mental Health Workforce

The WHO reported that the ratio of psychiatrists was at 0.4 per 100,000 in 2005. However, in 2017, that ratio was at 0.84 which means it has doubled in 12 years. The WHO’s numbers show a steady increase in this workforce. A case study of under-resourced areas in Morocco has proposed peer-therapy as a solution to the lack of available mental health physicians.

A 2017 case study in Morocco gives hope to under-resourced areas. Sixty people ages 18-33 engaged in a rehabilitation program. The researchers found that the sessions were successful. They believe peer-therapy can make up for the lack of an available workforce.

While treatment for mental health in Morocco has presented some challenges, the country is working to improve the situation. Through the implementation of new hospitals and clinics as well as peer-therapy, access to mental health care should improve for Morocco’s residents.

– Jacob Richard Bergeron
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health Resources Physical health is often the focus of healthcare advocacy groups, but mental health needs to be improved around the world just as much. While some still consider mental health a taboo subject, it is important to improve the lives and prospects of those in poverty. The violence and trauma that often go hand-in-hand with extreme poverty can cause mental health issues. Proper care is often lacking but organizations are stepping up to the challenge. There are several organizations providing mental health resources in developing countries.

The Africa Mental Health Research and Training Foundation (AMHRTF)

AMHRTF focuses on providing mental health services in developing countries like Kenya. The organization prioritizes community health, making it a point to educate and serve community members of all ages from children to the elderly. It puts special focus on pregnancy and postpartum mental healthcare and trauma-related mental health disorders. In addition, the organization employs professionals with a wide range of specialties in order to implement holistic care. AMHRTF aims to make mental healthcare in Kenya available and accessible.

Strong Minds

Strong Minds focuses on providing mental health services in developing countries throughout the African continent. Specifically, the organization works toward ending Africa’s depression epidemic and reaching the most vulnerable women with depression in sub-Saharan Africa. After conducting research on the most effective and cost-efficient ways to conduct programs, Strong Minds settled on a model of consistent group therapy for a period of 12 weeks that a trained community member led. Qualifying to receive training as a group leader does not require a high level of formal education beforehand and is therefore accessible to members of communities in extreme poverty. These groups are extremely effective at reducing the cases of depressive episodes and providing coping mechanisms.

The World Federation for Mental Health

The World Federation for Mental Health emerged in 1948 and has been active in several different areas of mental health services since. The organization’s focus is destigmatizing mental illness and advocating for international and national mental health policies for the underserved. The organization helps to organize mental health awareness activities and events around the world and educate the public on mental health conditions. It also aims to improve care, treatment and recovery of people with mental disorders.

Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry

The Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry initially provided mental health services in developing countries in Europe with a special focus on nations that were previously part of the USSR. The organization’s work has now spread to include other regions too. The organization advocates for mental health care as a human right and assists people with mental health disorders, intellectual disabilities and trauma-based disorders. Like Strong Minds, the Federation Global Initiative on Psychiatry focuses on improving mental health options and services on a community level by working with local negative forms of mental illness management and helping to create more positive treatment options. The organization’s decentralized approach makes solutions more sustainable in the long term.

Center for Health and Human Development

Mental Health International, under the umbrella of the organization Center for Health and Human Development, helps to provide mental healthcare in El Salvador and other developing countries like Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The organization aims to destigmatize mental illness and form a network of NGOs to provide care to people with mental health disorders like depression and schizophrenia. Mental Health International also provides self-empowerment techniques along with training and classes for mental health caregivers.

All the above organizations work to improve and provide mental health resources in developing countries and create a world in which everyone in need has access to sufficient care.

Che Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in ArmeniaHundreds of thousands of civilians fled in search of safety when violence broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh on Sept. 27, 2020. Following these first violent clashes, organizations stepped up to provide humanitarian assistance for displaced civilians arriving in the capital Yerevan. The extensive damage to infrastructure and disruption of daily life, coupled with a harsh winter climate and COVID-19, will require help from the international aid community for many months to come. One area that this incoming aid will go to is mental health education and support. In 2019, the World Health Organization reported that one in five people in conflict-affected areas lives with a mental health issue. The longer a person lives with acute stress, anxiety or other mental health challenges, the more difficult it is for them to successfully secure basic needs. Aid groups are addressing the issue of mental health in Armenia with various programs.

Mental Health Support for Armenia

The Armenian Red Cross Society is providing humanitarian assistance to help people with basic necessities. This includes psychosocial support for returning soldiers and civilians. As of late December 2020, it had provided around 1,000 psychological services to wounded soldiers and their families.

The International Medical Corps, another emergency aid response group, is working with the Armenian Ministry of Health to assess current needs. In October 2020, the organization expressed its plans to provide training in psychological first aid for frontline healthcare workers. The organization will also provide mental health and psychosocial assistance to people who need it.

UNICEF Addresses Child Trauma

The UNICEF Armenia team and a local arts and music school called the Nexus Center for the Arts offer art and music-based support groups. These support groups give children and teenagers a chance to express themselves without having to talk. UNICEF reported testimonials of students who upon arriving were too afraid to open up but after participating in the support groups felt ready to talk about the trauma they had experienced. The groups also give students a chance to hang out, decompress and enjoy music in a comfortable and safe environment.

To help school teachers, UNICEF partnered with several civil society organizations to teach them how to address trauma in the classroom. UNICEF offered virtual lessons on trauma-informed teaching. The lessons gave 150 school psychologists and 900 public school teachers the skills to work in high-pressure situations and strategies to provide better psychological support to their students.

UNICEF Armenia also put together a psychological first aid guide. This guide has clear and concise information on how to respond to children in a mental health crisis. It emphasizes the importance of responding to children in an age-appropriate and individualized way.

The Increased Need for Mental Health Support in Armenia

Mental health in Armenia, especially following the conflict, is an issue that requires prioritization. The conflict and displacements have left 39,000 children out of school. The trauma caused by displacement has affected children in multiple ways. Ensuring the well-being of these children is a top priority for UNICEF and other organizations addressing mental health in Armenia. The hope is that these initiatives will combat the negative impacts of traumatic experiences in conflict-ridden areas like Nagorno-Karabakh.

Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Thailand
Mental health has been a hot topic recently, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thailand is one country that has been struggling with mental health. As of 2019, Thailand has had a population of about 70 million with a substantial number experiencing mental illness. Here is some information about mental health in Thailand.

The Situation

According to Deputy Health Minister Dr. Surawith Konsomboon, the most common diseases in Thailand are psychosis, anxiety disorders, depression and apoplexy. In a Department of Mental Health study from 2012, Konsomboon found that about 20% of the Thai population has struggled with some type of mental illness. Additionally, projections have determined that this number will grow each year.

Health Care System

Thailand’s current mental health policy emerged in 1995, which includes advocacy, promotion, treatment and rehabilitation. Its plan was to promote maintaining one’s mental health and preventing future mental health issues while forming new treatment services.

Thailand’s universal health coverage started in 2002. The intent was for care to be affordable, yet many extra costs exist with certain treatments. The government and private and non-governmental sectors now provide psychiatric services to give services for mental health in Thailand.

However, many hospitals are facing issues with having too many patients, a lack of staff members and under-financing from their government. This creates difficulties in providing quality care to their patients and having enough funding to do their job effectively.

Young People and Mental Health Discussions

According to interviews that UNICEF performed, adolescents feel that mental health in Thailand does not receive the attention it requires. Many people do not have access to services and information that they need in order to understand and manage their emotions and thoughts. This creates many difficulties including negative perceptions and stigma surrounding mental illnesses.

The risks of developing mental health struggles are especially high for those who are facing poverty, discrimination and violence. UNICEF explained how adolescents wish that there was an open space with their families and friends to talk about the things that they are struggling with instead of bottling their feelings up and keeping it to themselves.

These feelings of stress and depression have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people are fearful of getting the virus, stressed about the transition to online school and work and loneliness from social distancing. This is especially true for those who do not have a solid financial situation and are worried about their employment.

Contributing Factors

A wide gap exists between the rich and the poor in Thailand, contributing to societal pressures and judgment. Living in poverty has a negative effect on one’s mental health, as financial crises can lead to an increase in stress regarding supporting one’s family.

High expectations in Thai culture have also added pressure to the lives of young people, which can weigh them down as time goes on. Feeling the need to be perfect in college and supporting one’s family can be a key part of poor mental health in Thailand.

On the bright side, Thailand has been working to reduce its rate of poverty over the past few decades. In 1988, over 65% of people were living in poverty. As of 2018, this rate decreased to under 10%. This process is still in effect, and the number continues to decrease.

Progress

Many causes and influences have contributed to struggles regarding mental health in Thailand, including societal pressures and poverty. Adolescents feel this pressure through their experiences in school and work as they are trying to build a life for themselves while making their family proud. However, the Ministry of Public Health has goals to expand its mental health services. It hopes to increase children’s emotional intelligence and decrease the suicide rate in Thailand through its efforts.

Over the past two decades, the Ministry of Public Health has emphasized developing systematic and effective technology which will be able to improve health programs. Thailand is also incorporating mental health care into community services, prison services and psychiatric rehabilitation. The efforts in laying down these foundations have been raising the quality of services that the country provides.

– Miranda Kargol
Photo: Flickr

Suicide in GreenlandBetween 1970 and 1980, the suicide rate in Greenland was seven times higher than that of the United States. The high incidences of suicide in Greenland stemmed from the devaluing of local Inuit culture which occurred when Denmark pushed to modernize the island. Due to a lack of adequate resources, improvements have been slow. However, as mental health has become destigmatized, various NGOs and government programs have appeared over the last decade with promising solutions to address suicide in Greenland.

Suicide in Greenland Today

In 2016, the global average annual suicide rate was 16 persons per 100,000. In Greenland, the annual suicide rate was 82 persons per 100,000.

Suicide is not evenly distributed across Greenland’s population. Teenagers and young adults are at the highest risk of suicide. According to the Nordic Centre of Welfare and Social Issues, the prevalence of suicide in Greenland is three times higher among 20 to 24-year-olds than 25 to 65-year-olds.  Additionally, 23% of teenagers and young adults reported that they have self-harmed.

Recognizing Risk Factors

Due to the rapid modernization of the 1970s and 1980s, many people emigrated to the cities and larger settlements for economic and educational mobility. However, once there, they needed to assimilate to appear more Danish. The loss of identity that followed saw communities turn to alcohol, which in turn led to child abuse and neglect — two major risk factors for suicide. This erosion of family structure made it hard for individuals to cope with emotional and psychological hardships.

Combating Suicide in Greenland

Over the last couple of decades, the government and several NGOs created programs to combat this endemic.

  • SAAFIK – Established in 2011, this nation-wide counseling center extends medical, psychological, social and legal support to child victims of sexual abuse.
  • Break the Silence, End the Violence – In 2014, The Ministry of Family, Gender Equality and Social Affairs launched a three-year campaign to raise awareness about domestic violence. To this end, the Ministry established a web page about violence and information campaigns.
  • SAPIIK – This peer mentoring program is focused on reducing the number of children who drop out of school. Through social activities and outings, SAPIIK focuses on improving a child’s intrapersonal and interpersonal skills.
  • School Fairy System – This program places a social worker, known as a School Fairy, in schools to help students who need social support. The School Fairy engages students through conversation and activities. The School Fairy also reports concerns and observations to the school when he or she deems that special interventions are required.
  • TIMI ASIMI –  Founded in 2011, this is an outdoor-based intervention program geared toward at-risk teens and young adults, ages 13 to 21. Throughout the course of three months, participants engage in educational courses, community service, academic counseling and physical activities.
  • Project CREATes – Over the course of two years, this project utilized storytelling as an effective way of eliciting personal experiences related to both suicide and resilience. These workshops were safe spaces for the arctic’s youth to come together and share their experiences with suicide and mental health. Facilitators worked with youth to help them to write, audio record, photograph or film their own stories as a way of healing. Though Project CREATeS ended in 2019, it was just one part of a series of programs created by the Arctic Council to combat suicide in the arctic. It was succeeded by Local2Global, another suicide prevention program focused on fostering community and creating digital projects for storytelling.

Greenland has come a long way since the 1980s. People are now able to talk about suicide and get help for mental issues. With more initiatives and resources, suicide in Greenland can decrease to match the global average or even undercut it.

Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Latvia
Latvia is located in the Baltic region. This northern European country’s active involvement in many international organizations allows for it to have diverse approaches to its policies. However, Latvia still has a long way to go when it comes to societal issues such as mental health. In fact, poor mental health in Latvia was one of the leading contributors to disease burden in 2017.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a balance between an individual’s potential, community interactions and everyday stressors of life. A high number of mental health disorders in a country results in social and economic burdens. Therefore, mental health treatment plays a crucial role in the overall health of a country’s citizens.

The population at risk of experiencing poor mental health are citizens who report a low level of social connection and household income. As the WHO’s definition of mental health describes, community and everyday stressors, such as economic issues, correlate to overall life satisfaction.

Societies typically measure mental health to increase diagnosis and treatment. Compared with other European countries, Latvia has lower indicators of mental health. Here are four key facts to know about mental health in Latvia.

4 Key Facts About Mental Health in Latvia

  1. The Progression of Mental Health Care: When Latvia was a part of the Soviet Union, patients took on a more passive role in their mental health medical treatment. Since then, Latvia restored its independence in 1991 and joined the European Union and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 2004. With its global involvement, Latvia not only gained allies but was also able to learn more diverse ways of treating mental health. Before joining the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2016, Latvia had to follow criteria related to quality health care such as giving patients a more active role in their treatment. As a result of these guidelines, Latvia is now moving toward better psychiatric care
  2. Rate of Diagnosis: A 2012 study assessed depression in a general population of Latvia for one year. It then measured how many people with this mental illness sought out health care. Results indicated that depression is under-diagnosed in Latvia. Latvia has improved its efficiency despite the health care system remaining underfunded. Changes like these are a part of a larger plan to increase mental health care.
  3. Progress Toward the Sustainable Development Goal 3: The United Nations has a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes encouraging mental health and well-being. Overall, the U.N. developed 17 goals to achieve prosperity. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Latvia is still making progress toward these goals through its parliament’s push for civic engagement. With an increase in political participation, more policies will develop that reflect the needs of its citizens, including in the mental health sector.
  4. Latvia’s National Development Plan: Latvia currently has a National Development Plan for 2021-2027. The country developed this primarily economic policy in accordance with the U.N. Agenda for Sustainable Development. Among these goals, Latvia included a section on quality of life, which stresses the importance of mental health along with physical health. In order to accomplish this, the country plans on having targeted cooperation between rural and urban areas and municipal cooperation between the economies in different regions. This cooperation will allow for participation that will recognize the various needs of its citizens.

Ritineitis

A nonprofit organization called Ritineitis has a foundation called the Adult Non-formal Education Center Azote that focuses on mentoring for educational and professional needs. One project, “ASNI,” allowed young people to come up with proposals that would help the daily life of Latvia’s citizens. The goal of this project was to promote youth civic participation. Numerous projects came out of this competition, including the promotion of youth sports, exercising and even weaving. Participating in civic participation at a young age will most likely lead to continuing this practice later in life. This participation will increase policies aimed at the societal needs of Latvian citizens, in turn, increasing mental health awareness.

Latvia may have lower mental health indicators than other European countries, but its current policies are working to improve ways to record this type of data. Its National Development Plan recognizes the need to promote “health literacy [as] a national priority.” Overall, Latvia is moving forward in its plans to increase the social and physical well-being of its population.

–  Mia Banuelos
Photo: Pixabay

 Mental Health in Rwanda Rwanda is a small country in sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda has struggled to become a stable country economically and politically since it became independent in 1962. As a developing country, Rwanda is still trying to develop its healthcare system. With years of conflict and instability, people especially struggle with mental health in Rwanda.

5 Facts About Mental Health in Rwanda

  1. The Rwandan Genocide plays a significant role. Roughly 25% of Rwandan citizens struggle with PTSD and one in six people suffer from depression. The reason why so many Rwandans have mental health conditions can be explained by one key event in Rwandan history. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. The mass genocide caused severe trauma to survivors who still suffer from mental health issues 26 years after the event.
  2. Rwanda has very few resources. According to the World Health Organization, Rwanda has only two mental health hospitals, zero child psychiatrists, and only 0.06 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. With a large amount of the population plagued by mental health issues, Rwanda needs more resources to help the mentally ill.
  3. Suicide rates have greatly decreased in Rwanda. In 2016, the suicide rate in Rwanda was 11 deaths per 100,000 people. This is a great improvement compared to the 24.6 suicides per 100,000 people in 2000. An increase in mental health resources contributes to the lowering of the suicide rate in Rwanda.
  4. Increased mental health funding is essential. The average mental health expenditure per person in Rwanda is 84.08 Rwandan francs. Most citizens of Rwanda do not have the financial resources to afford mental healthcare. The government currently uses 10% of its healthcare budget on mental health services. Considering how large the mental health crisis is, the government should increase its expenditure to address the crisis. Since citizens cannot afford to pay for mental health resources, the government will need to help provide more free or affordable resources.
  5. The Rwandan Government is updating policies to address mental health. In 2018, Rwanda’s updated strategic plan for its health sector set new targets for expanding mental health care services. Its purpose is to help increase access to mental health resources by decentralizing mental health and integrating it into primary care. Also, this plan calls for a decrease in the cost of mental healthcare and an increase in the quality of care. The plan hopes to accomplish strategic goals by 2024. If successful, this plan may be used as a method to help other countries establish a quality mental health plan.

The Road Ahead for Rwanda

Considering Rwanda’s violent history, it is no surprise that the population struggles with mental health. Over the years, progress has been made with regard to mental health in Rwanda. However, many more resources are needed to help address the mental health crisis in Rwanda. With Rwanda’s updated strategic plan to address the issue and an increase in expenditure, the well-being of Rwandan’s will be positively impacted.

Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr

Bipolar Awareness in IndiaIndia is the second-most densely populated nation in the world, with more than 1.3 billion people. Of that number, more than 82 million citizens suffer from bipolar disorder, according to data from 2019. Bipolar disorder in India often goes undiagnosed and untreated for reasons ranging from ancient superstitions to the cost of treatment, but, bipolar awareness in India is steadily progressing.

Bipolar Disorder in India

Improved bipolar awareness in India exemplifies how a concerted effort can reduce stigma and create an affordable and readily available avenue for treatments such as therapy and medication. Indians, mostly women, have been disowned and abandoned by family or a spouse after receiving a bipolar diagnosis. In a country where the consequences of a mental condition are isolation and disconnection, the need for awareness and education is paramount.

A nation that once attributed bipolar disorder to demonic spirits, planetary alignments or a sinful past life, has come extremely far in its understanding of the illness. But, the stigma surrounding the disorder is still prevalent in India, and many, especially those from rural locations, believe bipolar disorder is a choice or an illness reserved for the rich and privileged.

BipolarIndia Organization

One resource improving bipolar awareness in India is the organization BipolarIndia. The community was created in 2013 by Vijay Nallawala, an Indian man that suffers from bipolar disorder, and his mentor and friend, Puneet Bhatnagar. BipolarIndia’s mission is to create an empathetic, judgment-free environment for bipolar people to find information, treatment, and most of all, support from those that can relate to their struggle.

BipolarIndia hosts a National Conference every year on World Bipolar Day to create awareness for the illness and educate residents from all over the country. In 2015, the organization began hosting monthly support meetings for individuals to speak with peers that can understand their struggle. It has also recently developed a way for patients to receive real-time support through the Telegram App when they feel they may need immediate help. Resources such as the Telegram App are invaluable due to the lack of mental health professionals in India.

The Mental Health Care Bill

Data from a 2005 report shows that there are only three psychiatrists per million citizens and only 0.06% of India’s healthcare budget goes toward improving mental healthcare. The Indian Government passed a Mental Health Care Bill in June of 2013 laying out a mission to improve bipolar awareness in India as well as reduce stigma surrounding all mental health issues. The bill has been undergoing revisions and policy modifications based on the guidance given by the Indian Association of Psychiatry.

Efforts to Raise Awareness

The government’s efforts to raise awareness about the complexity of bipolar disorder and the number of Indians that suffer in silence is vital to the disorder being understood. The Indian government aims to provide communities with adequate care and reliable information, leading the nation to a better understanding of a complicated mental disorder.

Bipolar awareness in India has improved with private organizations such as the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) funding research on effective treatments and raising awareness across the globe.

Also fighting for bipolar awareness, Indian celebrities, including Deepika Padukone, Rukh Kahn, Yo Yo Honey Singh and Anushka Sharma, have stepped forward and opened up about their personal battles with bipolar disorder, combatting the stigma surrounding the illness.

The Road Ahead

Bipolar awareness in India has slowly improved but still has a long way to go. If the government aims to change the attitude toward bipolar disorder and improve treatment, a significant investment in research is vital as well as a comprehensive understanding of the disorder.

–  Veronica Booth
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Malaysia
Populations of people who suffer from mental illness exist in every country in the world. Some countries, like Malaysia, have a more prominent number of mental illness cases than others, having an equal ratio of one in five cases in comparison to the United States. Malaysian Medics International (MMI) pointed out that Malaysia has a national average of 1.27 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, a stark contrast to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation for a ratio of one psychiatrist per 10,000 people. Here is some information about mental health in Malaysia and efforts to treat it.

About Mental Illness in Malaysia

Mental illness can have a large variety of causes. Moreover, pre-existing circumstances such as poverty can make cases of mental illness worse. Such cases tend to make it difficult for patients to maintain a steady lifestyle due to mental health symptoms that make full functionality difficult. The poverty that is already prominent often means that a support system is not present to give the patients the time they need to recover. In 2020, the police reported that 25% of recent suicides related to pressures of debt.

Stigma exists in Malaysia regarding mental health. Some Malaysians perceive mental illness as a natural phenomenon or a kind of divine punishment; this viewpoint often exists within families who have more religious inclinations. Many cases see these families attempting to ‘purge’ such conditions through spiritual means that have not always received medical approval and may not have positive effects.

Mental Health Among Youth

Prior to 2014-2015, few investigations into the statistics of mental health of the youth of Malaysia occurred. With the inclusion of mental health in the National Health Morbidity survey, the country is now taking the numbers more seriously and believes it should observe mental health numbers in order to preserve future generations.

In 2015, the National Health Morbidity Survey stated that mental health illnesses and conditions were likely to become the second most prominent illness after heart disease in Malaysia by 2020. In 2017, the National Health Morbidity Survey showed that one in five adolescents has depression while two in five have anxiety. At that time, 11.2% reported suicidal tendencies or intentions, and 10.1% reported that they have attempted suicide. Now in 2021, that statistic has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused an increasing report of cases of mental health problems. Worldwide, the increase of those who suffer from mental illness has risen by an estimated 10 million.

Treatment for Mental Health Issues

Not everyone has access to treatment. Some are unable to afford it and certain areas lack proper clinics. Even in cases where there are professionals who can help, it can be difficult to make a consistent appointment. The WHO revealed statistics that showed that the ratio of psychiatrists to patients is 1:200,000 in Malaysia. On the chance that a person would be able to get a consultation, the aid they need may not always be available or open to them.

The Mental Illness and Support Association (MIASA)

There are organizations that are already working to offer as much support as possible for those who may not have access to resources like therapy or medication. Beginning in 2017, the Mental Illness And Support Association (MIASA) made it its mission to promote awareness on the importance of mental health in Malaysia. Its charities and services seek to provide aid for patients and caregivers alike. It offers a holistic solution by also encouraging spirituality alongside medical treatment, which is to give patients empowerment and autonomy.

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)

Certain companies are also working to make it easier for those with mental illnesses to reach out if there are no professionals available to them. In August 2019, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) worked with eight phone operation companies in order to waive call charges for people making calls to the Befrienders helpline, which is a mental health helpline that provides services such as counseling and emotional support over the phone. With the right aid, it is working to ensure that anyone can get the support they need for a healthy, functioning lifestyle.

It is the hope of the Malaysian government that with greater advocacy, the rise of mental illness in the growing youth will level out. The medical studies that have made this rise clear have helped to erase doubts about the prominence of mental illness and prove the need for treatment for mental health in Malaysia. In order to preserve future generations, the country will continue to take measures in order to give patients the support they need to live functioning and healthy lifestyles.

– Seren Dere
Photo: Flickr