World Mental Health Day has been observed on October 10th every year since its establishment by the World Federation for Mental Health in 1992. The aims of the event - which has global reach and emphasises a specific theme each year - is to raise awareness of mental health problems in general, and to promote efforts to support mental wellbeing. For example, this year the principle of dignity in mental health is being emphasised along with promoting the role and importance of mental health first aid, in a day of activity that is expected to achieve greater participation than ever before. A growing number of awareness-raising events, tweets, 'likes' and 'shares' of blogs like this one will all add weight to the collective voice calling for improved mental health for all. Whether or not this demand is met with willing action by those with the power to instigate change is another story, but this is no reason not to try and hold our governments and public institutions to account in their responsibility to provide support for our mental health and wellbeing.
It is overwhelmingly clear that this support is needed. On a local level, there are intolerable inconsistencies in mental healthcare between UK regions, and mental health problems account for 28% of the total disease burden in the UK but receive only 13% of the NHS budget. Worldwide, we have reached a stage where mental health problems constitute the single largest burden on the global economy. With an estimated global cost of £1.6 trillion, mental health weighs in as more damaging to economic productivity than each of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even cancer. Here in the UK, the estimated costs of mental health problems are between £70-£100 billion each year, accounting for 4.5% of GDP. However, the damage of mental health problems is not just to productivity - the costs are more than economic. What is being illustrated here isn't just a price-tag for less-than-optimal functioning, but human suffering in the forms of years of lost quality of life or startlingly shortened life-expectancy. None of these costs can have a price-tag put on them, unless we are happy to measure the value of human lives in economic terms alone.
So it is clear that these problems cannot be ignored, and that mental health is very much a global issue. Whatever the state of our own underfunded domestic mental health services, or absence of coherent public mental health policy, World Mental Health Day offers a chance for different countries, cultures and approaches to mental health and wellbeing to come together. In the UK, mental health receives just 5.5% of the total health research spend - so collaboration with others around the world, sharing best practice and promoting cross-cultural research are all essential ingredients to furthering an understanding of how our biology and the ways we live influence our wellbeing. Exploring and comparing the many and varied ways in which people live across the globe can only be advantageous in drawing out the relationship between the individual's holistic wellbeing and the social, cultural, physical and, increasingly, virtual environments in which they are situated. As well as investing in technologically advanced research methods to describe the neurological predispositions, triggers and manifestations of mental health problems, we must never overlook the basic idea that our wellbeing is fundamentally shaped by the way each of us lives our lives, within our specific contexts. There is so much we can learn from each other - from traditions of mindfulness meditation to specific ways of practicing within health services. This is as much about what makes for mental wellness as it is about illness.
One day I hope that we won't need a World Mental Health Day. If the aims of this annual event are eventually met, then mental health will at last be something that we are all aware of. Talking about our current emotional state will be as as normal as talking about our physical aches and pains, and awareness-raising days will only be needed for particular conditions, as with physical health. The idea of holding a "World Physical Health Day" seems almost laughable from our own cultural perspective, where the importance of physical health is a given and maintaining our physicality is a daily pursuit. Here's to a day when we are as equally baffled by the idea of a World Mental Health Day - when for all peoples in all places, promoting our individual and collective mental health is a part of every day.