Mental health as a priority, or…how to make the world a better place?


The COVID-19 pandemic entered the homes of all of us almost three years ago and, with it, brought fear, loneliness, anguish and a hitherto unimaginable universalization of the experience of human suffering. In these moments so profoundly negative for the lives of so many people but, at the same time, so transformative for the stigma associated with mental illness, it became clear to (almost) everyone that the line that separates continuum between health and mental illness is, after all, much more tenuous than we could imagine.

Many of those who, until then, had never or almost never felt markedly anxious, felt difficulty breathing, difficulty falling asleep and/or ruminating thoughts about the potential consequences of the pandemic. Many of those who, until then, saw depression as something that only affects others – not infrequently, erroneously, associated with the “weakest” – felt sad, with little desire to perform any tasks and sleep changes and/or of appetite. Basically, almost everyone was able to experience a small sample of the daily suffering felt by those who live and live with mental health problems.

It is undeniable that the attention currently paid to mental health is profoundly superior to that given to it before the COVID-19 pandemic, and this was one of the (few) positive transformations offered by the health crisis. It is precisely this societal paradigm shift that leads to the fact that today, October 10, 2022, the theme of World Mental Health Day can be “Making Mental Health and Well-Being for All a Priority”.

The message of the day is clear: in a world that is going through a pandemic that has not yet ended, in a world where war ravages and destroys the lives of thousands and thousands of people, in a world where climate change generates, especially among the youngest , an apprehension that greatly interferes with their well-being, no one can be left behind. From people who live in developed countries but do not receive adequate treatment for their mental illness, through those who live in underdeveloped countries and who do not have access to any kind of treatment, to those who do not have mental health problems but see threatened by growing social and economic inequalities, everyone must be the focus of attention in mental health policies.

It is evident, given the risk factors mentioned above, that no one has as much power over the mental health of citizens as policy makers. It is up to them to find solutions for peace, it is up to them to define policies to minimize climate change, it is up to them to implement measures aimed at reducing inequalities. However, health professionals also have a key role in this matter. Not infrequently, although with fewer resources than would be desirable, they are the ones who take the lead in terms of mental health promotion, prevention and treatment of mental illness and psychosocial rehabilitation.

In the second decade of the 21st century, in Portugal and around the world, it is clear that the approach to mental health has, mandatorily, to occur in a transdisciplinary way. Gone are the days of a viscerally biomedical view of Psychiatry, and it is now evident that without specialist nurses in Mental and Psychiatric Health Nursing, psychiatrists or child and adolescent psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers acting in an integrated manner and articulated, much more is lost than gains are gained.

chronicle of Francisco Sampaio.
President of the Board of the College of Mental Health and Psychiatric Nursing Specialty of the Ordem dos Enfermeiros, Professor at the Fernando Pessoa School of Health and Integrated Researcher at CINTESIS@RISE.

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