Today, the world draws attention to the importance of mental health by marking the Mental Health Day. The theme of the day this year is “Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. When it comes to addressing physical health needs, Malta can pride itself in having long provided excellent quality health care. Malta’s history as small country that has survived occupation, world war and colonisation also speaks of the capacity of this nation to persist and to recover from hardships.
However, one could argue that in Malta, the “normal stresses of life” emphasized in WHO’s definition of mental health have become more complex and prevalent than ever in the recent past. The items filling our news cycles highlight this: commuting time doubled due to traffic congestion, street space taken from the public and handed over to catering establishments, village cores degraded by large tower blocks, and access to the sea blocked by hawkers, developers, and pollution.
All of these circumstances disrupt the way of life as we know it and also negatively impact on our capacity to “work productively and fruitfully, and be able to make a contribution to our community”.
When we think of news items specifically related to mental health, we might think of suicides in prison, crime rates, causes of depression, substance abuse and anxiety disorder, and traumatizing social circumstances. However, in reality the mental health of the country encompasses much more than that. Because the markers of mental are less tangible than the markers of physical health, mental health issues are less easily identified, measured and treated. Mental health is not the absence of mental health issues, but includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health affects how we think, feel, and act, and helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Therefore a comprehensive mental care system enables all of the population to strive to achieve mental wellbeing on this level.
On a related note, this year the WHO celebrates five countries in the Central and Eastern Europe that have found new ways of providing mental health care to their populations. Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania have all been involved in the RECOVER-E, a European Commission HORIZON 2020 project in which European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations is a partner. This project aims to reduce gaps in access to mental health support by facilitating the development and evaluation of multidisciplinary Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs), allowing care to be delivered in and around a person’s community, and focusing on recovery.
These multidisciplinary community mental health teams consist of psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, and peer workers (people with lived experience of a mental health issue). In particular, the role of social workers and peer workers in the team is important for addressing social and economic concerns of service users, and addressing not only mental health symptoms, but emotional, psychological and social wellbeing as well.
On this day the Malta Chamber of Psychologists expresses its wish to see mental health given its due importance on a national level, reflected in the formulation of policies which benefit society at large by aiming to increase the mental wellbeing of all Maltese residents, rather than that of specific interest groups. Let us take a broad perspective of mental health and aim to prevent mental health issues rather than to treat them, by increasing general wellbeing across the board.