What I Talk About When I Talk About Mental Health

We live in a society where stress is privatized. Inability to keep up with work/studies is too often considered as an individual weakness – a lack of strength in character. However, what the numbers tell us is that this is a societal problem. We have created a society where profit comes before health. We have created an illusion of atomized individuals, whereas in reality, we are all interconnected.

The number of people leaving work/school due to stress related mental health problems, such as burn-out, anxiety and depression; is growing. Depression in particular is the most prevalent health problem in the developed world. Furthermore, over 50% of mental health problems begin prior to adulthood, according to the European Pact for Mental Health and Well-being (2008).

Yet, stigmatization, lack of prevention, and a shortage of access to mental health care services are a huge problem.

Mental health is a spectrum, defined by the World Health Organization as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. It is exactly this notion of engagement with the community that is undermined in the current prevention and treatment model. We know that exclusion and stigmatization both pose a risk for mental health, as well as hinder the recovery from mental health illness. Still we are lacking an effective way to combat this.

It is time we take a collective perspective on mental health. In material terms, we are better off than ever, yet still; mental health problems are only increasing in prevalence.

An effective treatment framework must recognize human beings as nested in their respective communities. Here, retaining meaningful interaction in one’s community is vital. The WHO Mental Health Action Plan (2015) recognizes the importance of the role community plays in “building hope and creating opportunities for people with mental health problems, thus enhancing recovery” (p. 6).

What I wish to illustrate is that peer support can be equally beneficial to mental health support in addition to professional care. An isolationist and medicalized treatment regimen will not prevent mental health problems from occurring nor is it sufficient alone. The other side of the coin is individual empowerment within their community. Clearly, not all conditions respond to enhanced communal support. Nonetheless, there are significant psychological and societal benefits in building social networks that carry people through more vulnerable periods in life.

Last Spring 2019 I found a group called Safe Space, a student run peer-to-peer support group for mental health related issues. This platform gathered students to share their experiences and acted as a springboard for dialogue about the challenges our minds are facing in our fast-tempo society. Important benefits recognized by the participants were enhanced sense of connection with peers and a sense of relief that comes with acknowledging that one is not alone in her/his struggles. Initiatives such as this are urgently needed.

Working with Commons Network my intention is to shed light on the systematic pressures compromising mental health and investigate the potential of commoning as a remedy. If you are interested in this project, you can contact me via email: taru.aitola@hotmail.com

– Taru

Illustration credits

Featured Image – “World Mental Health Day” by Michael Driver is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Image Below – from VisualHunt.com licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication