Vincentian Conferences can play an important role in identifying cases and supporting patients
On October 10th, we are commemorating the WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY, established by the World Federation for Mental Health in 1992 (www.wfmh.global). The Society of St. Vincent de Paul around the world will be observing this day, with the objective of reflecting on this issue and showing its solidarity with those who suffer from mental health disorders, whether among the people assisted or among our own members.
Raising awareness of mental health issues in 2020 is doubly significant: First off, on the occasion of 2020’s International Themed Year, Félix Clavé, one of the seven SSVP founders, who had a poor mental health; and secondly, due to Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to emotional distress and perceived or real threats, thus affecting the mental health of all, exacerbated by fear, panic and media misinformation. Social distancing, albeit recommended, is detrimental to human relationships, which may give rise to mental disorders.
As defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being’. Hence, mental health is an integral part of health; and it should be a global health priority. Therefore, it is essential to be mindful of the signs and symptoms arising from mental disorders, a constraining factor in the 21st century, leading to lengthy sick leaves. How rewarding it is to see people back to work after a mental health leave, happy to get back to work, and to social and family life! Mental health should be a concern for all of us; therefore, it is a major challenge to global development.
However, stigma is a factor leading to negative mental health outcomes. Mental illnesses are often emotional and psychological, and many people don’t know how to get help. In the main, mental illness is more difficult to diagnose than physical illness. Today, some examples of common mental health disorders are as follows: depression, panic disorder, eating disorder with emotional distress, generalized anxiety disorder, social isolation and loneliness (particularly in elderly people, and widows and widowers), stress disorder, and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. All this is exacerbated by addictions, especially to new technologies, which can be a risk factor for suicide. Qualified mental health professionals (psychiatrists, therapists, social workers and psychologists) are required to address this issue.
According to research studies, half of all mental health conditions start by mid-teens, but most cases are undetected and untreated. Young people are faced with stress and family and school issues. Therefore, our fellow members, while home visiting, should recognize warning signs in teens for an early intervention and proper treatment. Our Conferences can do a lot when it comes to supporting assisted families going through emotional, mental or psychological distress. Our fellow members should attend courses focused on raising awareness on this issue. Conference presidents should also look after fellow members’ mental health.
Mental health promotion and protection of SSVP members and of those assisted is an institutional priority, and is also a major concern for our 16th President General, fellow member Renato Lima de Oliveira, who wrote an Extraordinary Circular Letter on May 5th on this issue and the implications of Covid-19 pandemic for mental health: ‘The first step is to overcome the stigma of mental health treatment. Mental disorders can be treated by qualified professionals. With proper guidance, our Conferences, Special Works and Councils can achieve a lot.’, stated our fellow member Renato Lima.