The long held mantra is that there is no health without mental health. But many people touched by mental health issues do not experience this rhetoric as reality. Since the 1950’s we have been fortunate to increasingly see people living longer in better health - but this cannot be said for those with mental health conditions.
Many people with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders such as bipolar disorder die 15-20 years earlier than people without these diagnoses, irrespective of whether they come from low, medium or high income countries. I am sure that these statistics are surprising but they are true.
In my role as President of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) and Chair of the World Dignity Project, I have been lucky to meet many people who have had good mental health care and I have also met people whose care has been wanting, people who worry about where their medication will come from, how they can get back into employment and education and how these concerns have increased since the global recession.
One thing that everybody I meet has in common is that people want to be treated with respect and dignity. They want to feel that they belong. I am sure that everybody can agree that we all deserve respect and dignity.
America has a long history and tradition of promoting democracy and producing great champions for human rights. It is fitting that in April 2016 The United States hosted a global summit ‘Out of the Shadows: Making Mental Health a Global Development Priority’ in Washington DC, organised by the World Bank Group and World Health Organization.
This summit brought together opinion leaders, funders, people and organizations that deliver mental health care, journalists, patient and advocacy groups, and carer organizations who unanimously agreed that it is time for mental health to come out of the shadows and share the same priority as other health issues.
I left this meeting feeling full of hope for the future. But I also was concerned that unless we all come together and maintain the momentum we may not realise the full gains and potential provided by this opportunity.
Patrick Kennedy, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a keynote speaker reminded us that implementation of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (passed 8 years ago in the U.S. Congress) is not yet complete. He said that although insurance premiums have been eliminated, the outright denial of care is still happening in some parts of the USA. He put this down to stigma and discrimination against those with mental health problems because many people still cannot accept that a mental health disorder is a real illness.
In some parts of the world people with mental illness are still chained as part of their treatment and in many parts of the world although not chained they are treated with a profound lack of humanity. The World Dignity Project has been set up to promote mental health and human rights. The Project has one simple message at its heart: That every human interaction represents an opportunity for one person to treat another with dignity — a dignity encounter. Individuals and families affected by mental illness often describe what dignity should look like. Sadly, however, most experience something wholly different. The stigma of mental illness can no longer be tolerated. We can no longer be bystanders. We must do something.
While statistics tell us that one in four people experiences a mental health condition, in reality every one of us knows somebody who has been affected by or is experiencing a mental health condition. You can do something about dignity in mental health. It is within our reach. Be a mental health dignity ambassador.
Symptoms are not a barrier to recovery – but our attitudes are.
Professor Gabriel Ivbijaro MBE JP
MBBS, FRCGP, FWACPsych, MMedSci, MA, IDFAPA
President WFMH www.wfmh.org
Medical Director, The Wood Street Medical Centre, 6 Linford Road, Walthamstow, London E17 3LA, UK