To mark World Mental Health Day, the World Health Organisation (WHO), reminded everyone to be solicitous towards those closest to them.
For Rwandans, where in rural areas especially, the custom of wishing any passing stranger, good day, still manages to hold out against the helter-skelter rush of modern life, looking in on their neighbours, who might be feeling at a low ebb, should come naturally.
Thanks to initiatives such as World Mental Health Day, the stigma around mental health, although still prevalent, is much less than it has been in the past. Mental health is now part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a recognition of the part our mental health plays in global development goals.
According to WHO, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds, while people with severe mental health conditions, can tend to die prematurely, from preventable diseases, as much as two decades earlier than they would otherwise have done.
Mental health professionals agree that many of the mental health conditions can be effectively treated, at relatively low cost, yet access to treatment remains low.
The picture in Rwanda however, is encouraging. The country is determined to be one of the leaders in recognising the importance of making mental healthcare services accessible for all. And the need is great.
Records from the Rwanda Integrated Health Management Information System, for 2019-2020, showed a 40% increase in people under twenty years old, who sought treatment for mental health illnesses. Figures for other age groups are also on the rise.
The rise in the reported cases is in part due to a successful campaign against stigmatisation of mental health, but it also indicates increased need for access to treatment.
In partnership with WHO and other partners, Rwanda has set a target of 2024, for expansion of mental healthcare services.
The Mental Health Strategic Plan, aims to increase access to quality mental healthcare, by decentralising services, and integrating them into primary healthcare. There will be greater promotion of prevention programmes that will focus on evidence based understanding of biological, psychological and social factors that affect emotional wellbeing.
Everyone in the community has a part to play, in increasing awareness of mental health, and as reminded on Mental Health Day, to extend emotional support to friends, family, colleagues or others they come across, who may not seem their usual self.