World Mental Health Day: Let’s Break the Silence. “Say No More Stigma On Mental Health issues!”

As we join the world to observe the World Mental Health on October 10, 2020, let all of us commit to spread the word about the issue.

As far as every person can be affected by the mental illness, at any time in his/her lifetime, everyone should also be informed about the issue, be aware and ready to fight and prevent it from himself, his family, his community but most importantly, he/she should be an agent of change for this “silent killer” which continues to ravage lives everywhere in the world.

The history of the World Mental Health

This day was an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) and was backed by the United Nations (UN) and it took place for the first time on October 10, 1992.

It also gained the support from the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as many other international organizations and became the World Mental Health Day.

It is celebrated in more than 150 countries including Rwanda.  Therefore, since 1992, this day is annually observed, and its main objective is to raise awareness about the importance of mental health problems and to mobilize efforts to support mental health.

This day offers many opportunities such as talks, debates, campaigns and mobilization of both populations and resources towards collective actions of awareness, prevention and special attention on mental health illness.

Below are the different themes of the World Mental Day since 1996:

1996 : Women and Mental Health

1997 : Children and Mental Health

1998: Mental Health and Human Rights

1999: Mental Health and Ageing

2000 – 2001 :  Mental Health and Work

2002: The Effects of Trauma and Violence on Children & Adolescents

2003:  Emotional and Behavioural Disorders of Children & Adolescents

2004:  The Relationship Between Physical & Mental Health: co-occurring disorders

2005:  Mental and Physical Health Across the Life Span

2006:  Building Awareness- Ring Risk: Mental Illness & Suicide

2007:  Mental Health in a Changing World: The Impact of Culture and Diversity

2008:  Making Mental Health a Global Priority: Scaling up Services through Citizen Advocacy and Action

2009:  Mental Health in Primary Care: Enhancing Treatment and Promoting Mental Health

2010:  Mental Health and Chronic Physical Illnesses

2011:  The Great Push: Investing in Mental Health

2012  :  Depression – A Global Crisis

2013: Mental Health and Older Adults

2014 :  Living with Schizophrenia

2015:  Dignity in Mental Health

2016:   Psychological and Mental Health First AID

2017:  Mental Health in the Workplace

2018:  Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World

2019:  Suicide Prevention

2020 : Mental health for all :  greater investment, greater access

This year’s theme of the World Mental Health as suggested by the WHO is “Mental health for all: greater investment, greater access.”

What is Mental Health all about?

But how can we easily and exactly define a mental illness? Simply, mental illness can be defined as a physical illness of the brain that results in disturbances and disorders in terms of thinking, emotions,  and lack of energy to cope with the normal demands of life.  The two most common mental health conditions are:

Anxiety Disorders including the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Oive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), panic disorder (panic attacks), generalized anxiety disorder and specific phobias.

Mental illness also manifests itself through Mood Disorders including depression and bipolar depression.  Research has revealed that more than 18 % of adults struggle with anxiety disorder each year while 10 % face the mood disorders each year.

Mental Health in Rwanda

Rwanda is not spared from the issues of Mental Health and we can observe all types of mental disorders in our communities and at all generations, women and men, young and old.  Findings from the RBC research on Rwanda Mental Health revealed the increase of prevalence of different mental disorders in general population and in genocide survivors with the following numbers:

“Findings from Rwanda mental health survey 2018 reveal a picture of increased prevalence of different mental disorders in both general population and Genocide survivors.

The prevalence of major depressive episode is 12% in the general population and 35% among Genocide survivors who were interviewed. Prevalence of PTSD is 3.6% in the general population and 27.9% among Genocide survivors.

Other mental disorders such as panic and obsessive-compulsive disorder present considerable figures as well, while alcohol use disorder is 1.6% and 4% in general population and Genocide survivors respectively.

Substance use disorder is 0.3% in the general population and 1.1% among Genocide survivors who were interviewed.”

On a specific note, within the communities of the Genocide against Tutsi survivors, the mental health issues are very common as demonstrated in the above RBC findings.

Their memories are often hunted by the atrocities and the traumatic events they experienced during the genocide against the Tutsi.  Some still live in an extreme fear and panic, others feel extremely alone even if they are with their family members, some others face a constant lack of sleep, some others have a continuous headache and scaring nightmares, to mention but a few.

Back to this year’s theme; “Mental health for all: greater investment, greater access.”, the message is clear and we need to appreciate all the efforts made in mental health so far even if there is still a long way to go.

We are thankful to Rwanda for the increased number of health facilities and the number of mental health professionals.

However, increasing the number of mental health facilities as investment must go hand in hand with increasing the number of patients or individuals who are treated in those facilities.  This is the greater access wanted in this year theme, both in quality and quantity.

What would be our role in this?

I will go with the below quote, to focus on the fact that all of us can be victims of the mental health issue and we must win this battle.  A collective effort is surely needed.

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of the world but those who fight and win battles that others do not know anything about.” – Jonathan Harnisch

Thinking about this mental health problem, let us all stop a minute and look around us.  We will certainly see someone close to us, silently suffering from a mental health illness.

This person might even be yourself.  Someone who needs to be heard and listened to, someone who needs our guidance, someone who needs to be shown the way to go about it, someone who is being rejected by family and communities, someone who doesn’t even know about his or her illness.

Let’s break the silence.  Let’s raise awareness.  Let’s talk about the issues.  Let us not leave anyone behind in this battle.

There issue of stigma associated with this problem may refrain patients from seeking professional health assistance on time.  Like any physical illness, mental illness is a normal problem that can be treated.

Let’s keep informing our families and communities about the issues, and lend a helping hand to someone you know who is suffering from mental health illness.

Don’t wait until it becomes too late.  In conclusion let me suggest the following small and individual actions that we can all do.

(i) Talk to someone you know; (ii) Exercise attentive listening; (iii) Encourage the use of kind language; (iv) Educate yourself about mental illness and motivate other to do so; (v) Feel free to share your experience; (vi) Leverage the use of social media and most importantly (viii) Don’t leave children and youth out of this topic.

As we commit to win this battle, I wish you a nice World Mental Health Day! Aluta Continua.

The writer is the vice president of GAERG




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