Mental health awareness

Geraldine Panapasa | Sunday, June 11, 2017
IN November last year, peer educator Lionel Rogers revealed that suicide was the leading cause of death among youths and that over the past five years, there were 1199 recorded cases of attempted and completed suicides in Fiji.

His message then and even today still rings loud and clear — "Don't wait until someone close to you dies to suicide, we can make that difference by talking about mental health issues and creating visibility around the services provided."

Mental health issues are often attached to stigma, and as Rogers pointed out then, people struggled with stressors in life, name calling, and some were just afraid to reach out or ask for help because of various reasons including social pressures and expectations.

Yesterday, a group of youths from non-governmental organisation Youth Champs 4 Mental Health took to the streets of Suva to reinforce the need to prevent suicide by promoting a holistic approach to addressing mental illness and mental health in the community, and hopefully change people's mind-sets, attitudes and treatment of mental health patients.

There are many ways to define mental health and its associated illnesses. But when you talk about mental health, you're talking about one's emotional, psychological and social wellbeing — how we think, feel and act as we cope with life.

Some people are able to handle the difficult curve balls in life well while others struggle to find their footing. But people are different and those that suffer from mental health illnesses often need the support of their families, friends, colleagues and the community to make them feel they belong. And they do belong. We just need to remind ourselves of humanity's true purpose when it comes to caring and loving a fellow human being in distress.

There was an interesting comment Rogers made as well when we had a discussion about mental health. That was his observation that young Fijians were not making mental health a priority and that many people still saw mental illness as a traditional disease on top of the stigma that if one sought counselling from St Giles Hospital or taking medication for mental health illness, they were considered a "mad person".

But the Youth Champs 4 Mental Health are doing all they can to change that perception. To change that mind-set and eliminate the derogative terms associated with a person suffering from mental health illness.

While we cannot force people to change their perceptions overnight about those suffering from mental health illnesses, we can create awareness about this social ill and hope we, as a community, can stand up and speak up for those who cannot.

As Rogers aptly shared, we need to shatter stigma and encourage more people to reach out and make a difference in the lives of those around them.

"If you are a young person facing suicidal thoughts and in a dark place and you're looking for a sign to live — this is it," Rogers shared.

Let us build on our communal values of lending a helping hand when needed.

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