This year, the World Health Organization has chosen depression as its cause for focus. In coordination with its campaign, WHO has released some startling statistics.
One message that we like to impress upon people is that mental health is just as important as physical health, and we urge people to advocate for a health care system that reflects that. But further than considering how we prioritize care, we must understand how inextricably linked these aspects of ourselves are. It is actually counterproductive to pay attention to one and not the other.
Dr. Gabor Mate, in his book When the Body Says No, explores this mind/body connection and its implications for health care:
Dualism—cleaving into two that which is one—colours all our beliefs on health and illness. We attempt to understand the body in isolation from the mind. We want to describe human beings—healthy or otherwise—as though they function in isolation from the environment in which they develop, live, work, play, love and die.
Physiologically, emotions are themselves electrical, chemical and hormonal discharges of the human nervous system. Emotions influence—and are influenced by–the functioning of our major organs, the integrity of our immune defenses and the workings of the many circulating biological substances that help govern the body’s physical states.
In addictions and mental health care, the dualistic nature of illness is often addressed. Housing First programs are one example; address the basic need of shelter and then support services can follow more effectively. One program in Edmonton that we currently see using a like-minded method is ACCESS Open Minds. At root a mental health service that helps youth navigate mental health care pathways, its focus on serving youth as they are, and delivering care that addresses whatever need is most present, means that program clinicians aren’t always offering simply treatment addressing mental illness.
Sometimes, care means helping youth meet their basic needs, like being taken to the food bank or to doctors appointments. Investing in the physical health care side of things aids clinicians in their eventual goal of treating mental illness.
On the flip side, untreated mental illness directly impacts physical health; the World Health Organization links depression to an increase in the risk of other noncommunicable diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In addition, diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease increase the risk of depression.
Investing in life-altering treatment options like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation equipment, then, not only increases our capacity to treat severe depression, it serves as a preventative measure for physical ailments that might unnecessarily strain the system. Investment in mental health makes economic sense. Every $1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work.
WHO has chosen to bring visibility to depression because it is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. Helping people seek and receive treatment is the first step to becoming collectively healthier. This World Health Day, support your friends and loved ones with depression, let them know that you are here to listen, and donate to assist programs and initiatives in Edmonton that address mental health.
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