World Mental Health Day 2019: are we educated enough?


Mental health – the phrase conjures up many images, and most of them aren’t exactly positive, or free of stigma. In recent years, this aspect has taken on much importance, especially since mental health is essential to life, as much as physical health is. In the early 1990s, the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) initiated World Mental Health Day or WMHDAY, and it has been celebrated worldwide since 1992 to increase awareness regarding mental health concerns and advocate their prevention and/or treatment/management.

In several societies globally it is still taboo to discuss mental health issues, even though most of us have, at one point or another, faced a mental health condition, regardless of its intensity or duration. It is, therefore, imperative that we each take responsibility to educate ourselves, and others, about mental health, its maintenance, what can affect it (positively or negatively), and so forth. We must also understand that caring for our mental health isn’t a one-time affair. As with physical health, we need to continually attend to and enhance our mental health, whether that is by abiding by a daily schedule or regulating our diet or enjoying the beauty of Nature.

Every year, WFMH announces a theme for WMHDAY to lend focus to one particular area of mental health. For the year 2019 the theme is Suicide Prevention. The data suggest that one person dies of suicide every 40 seconds, and that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death worldwide. Furthermore, it is believed that people between the ages of 15 and 29 are especially vulnerable to committing suicide. Hence, it is essential that individuals of this age group receive all the information, support, and care, whether it is within their families, community, educational institutions, workplace, or social circles, in order to prevent suicide.

The World Health Organisation (WHO)has issued a pamphlet ahead of WMHDAY titled ‘A day for “40 seconds of action”’. In it,the WHO urges us to take “40 seconds of action” and work together to help enhance awareness regarding suicide as a health concern across the world, improvepeople’s knowledge about suicide’s warning signs (including negative self-concept, drastic change in mood and behaviour, substance abuse, giving things away, making suicide threats, aggressiveness and irritability, etc.), lessen the stigma surroundingsuicide, and help those who are in distress know that they aren’t alone in their struggles. This initiative is in continuation of World Suicide Prevention Day observed on September 10th every year by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP).

The WHO states that suicide prevention can happen in one of many ways, and either in private conversation or public broadcasting via social media or other means. The idea is to spend at least some time of our day (a mere 40 seconds can do the trick) with, say, the person about whom one is worried may be contemplating suicide, or talking optimistically about what life has to offer with one who may be struggling with something.One may access the pamphlet here and read more suggestions regarding suicide prevention.

We must understand that discussing suicide, or asking someone about suicide, doesn’t give them the idea to commit suicide. In fact, it is a chance for that person to air their feelings and thoughts, and talk about those things that they may have kept hidden from others. It might be just the opportunity they were looking for.

So take the 40 seconds and help save a life!

Yasmine Dutta is a mental health professional practicing in the Guwahati area.