World Mental Health Day: Understanding, identifying, and addressing the challenges

By Jane Babirye
On 10 October 2023 at 03:21

Although an essential component of our overall well-being, mental health is a subject that often remains shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding. Fortunately, thanks to Richard Hunter (former Deputy Secretary General), the 10th every year reminds us to ‘raise awareness, unite and join efforts in support of mental health’.

Understanding Mental Health

According to World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is a state of mental wellbeing that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn and work well, and contribute to their community.

It encompasses our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours and influences how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices in our lives.

What causes Mental Health Challenges

According to experts, Genetics and brain chemistry can play a significant role in mental health. Certain genes may increase the risk of developing mental health conditions, while imbalances in brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) can also contribute to disorders like depression or anxiety.

Additionally, environmental Factors like in particular life experiences, such as trauma, abuse, or significant stress, can trigger or exacerbate mental health issues.

Personality traits, coping mechanisms, and thought patterns are also said to influence an individual’s susceptibility to mental health challenges. For example, perfectionism or a tendency to ruminate on negative thoughts can contribute to conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or depression.

Common Symptoms of Mental Health Conditions

Psychologists name: persistent sadness or mood swings, changes in sleep patterns (insomnia or oversleeping), increased irritability or anger, withdrawal from social activities, difficulty concentrating or making decisions among the most common symptoms of mental health disorders.

They thus recommend whoever experiences any of the symptoms to seek professional help from therapists, counsellors, or psychiatrists.

Practising self-care is relatively essential for maintaining good mental health. This includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and stress management techniques like mindfulness or meditation.

Furthermore, maintaining a strong support network of friends and family can provide emotional assistance during difficult times. Sharing feelings and concerns with loved ones can alleviate the burden of mental health challenges.

Authorities and responsible bodies are also urged to increase awareness about mental health and challenge the stigma surrounding it so as to encourage individuals to seek help when needed and promote a more supportive and understanding society.

With bold ambitions to improve citizens’ wellbeing, the Government of Rwanda has not been left behind this cause.

As part of activities to mark this year’s Mental Health Day, Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) in partnership with Solid Minds Rwanda, youth and student led organisations have launched the ‘Youth-Friendly National Mental Health Campaign’ to promote the mental well being of students and young people in Rwanda.

The event held at Olympic Hotel in Kigali Rwanda under the theme “Mental Health is a Universal Human Right” attracted poets like Junior Rumaga, Rusine Patrick-comedian, different doctors and therapists and is promising to add up to the country’s efforts towards eliminating mental health stigma and other related conditions.

A ‘Youth-Friendly National Mental Health Campaign’ to promote the mental well being of students and young people has been launched in Rwanda as part of activities to mark this year's Mental Health Day.