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Episode #74 - Mental Health 

1 July 2022 | Science conversation

Summary

WHO’s World Mental health Report says that mental health is the leading cause of disability. How did the pandemic impact our mental health? What are the signs and how can we keep ourselves mentally healthy? Dr Mark Van Ommeren explains in Science in 5.

 

Podcast

Transcript

Vismita Gupta-Smith

WHO's World Mental Health Report says that mental health is the leading cause of disability. What are the signs and how can we keep ourselves safe? Hello, I'm Vismita Gupta-Smith, welcome to Science in 5. We are talking to Dr. Mark Van Ommeren. Welcome, Mark. Mark, tell us about this WHO report that says that mental health is a leading cause for disability.

Dr. Mark Van Ommeren

WHO does advanced calculations in coming up with a conclusion like that. And these calculations, they include a number of different sources of information. One of them is that for an individual, when they have a mental health condition such as depression, it's actually very impairing. So many workplaces, the leading cause for people not being at work for sickness leave is because of mental health conditions, although that's often not said. Similarly, these conditions are very common.

In fact, they start off in the teenage years, in adolescent years, and largely they are untreated. Indeed, only less than one in three people around the world are getting care, mental health care for their mental health condition. 

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Mark, speak to us about how the pandemic has impacted our mental health and also how can we recognize these signs in ourselves or in our loved ones?

Dr. Mark Van Ommeren

The pandemic has been, as you can imagine, very hard on people's lives, and it has really shone a light on mental health. The rates have gone up first year of the pandemic for anxiety and depression, about 25%, meaning that about 25% more people than before had depression or anxiety, which is enormous. And for suicide, we didn't see the rates go up which is  good news. But we are carefully monitoring that. In terms of people with pre-existing severe mental illness, they were more likely to catch the virus and more likely to be severely ill from the virus and in fact, even more likely to die from the virus.

These are facts that are very important and have not been highlighted enough. In terms of your own mental health. If you find yourself to have persistent anxiety, which you didn't have before, persistent sadness or depression or a sad mood that you didn't have before, or drinking more alcohol. Or having lost pleasure and interest in things that you used to like, then these are concerns. And you need to take action to either seek help or to learn about how to manage these.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

So, Mark, tell us, what can people do to keep themselves mentally healthy.

Dr. Mark Van Ommeren

To stay mentally healthy one can do a number of things. One of the things that one can do and should do, is to stay physically active. It's important for health and physical health. Second thing that's very important to do is to avoid alcohol. Alcohol is often used by people to think that they would be mentally feeling better, but actually it makes mental problems more complex and more difficult to overcome. Thirdly, one should do every day something that is either enjoyable or meaningful.

If enjoyable, could be talking to a friend or go for a walk. And finally, one can manage, one can practise stress management techniques such as mindfulness, which is increasingly popular and is evidence-based. If you develop a mental health problem and these tips are not enough, then it will be important to seek help, preferably from a health professional. But let's say there is no no trusted health professional in your community.

Then at least talk to a trusted person in your community, maybe a friend or another person that you think is worth discussing with, to have them listen to you and perhaps get their feedback on how you can deal with your difficulties. Also what can be helpful is self-help. There are a number of self-help books out there and self-help materials online. When they are based on what is called cognitive-behavioural therapy, then they're usually very good.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Thank you, Mark. Here's wishing you all good mental health. Until next time then. Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.

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