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Gray Matter Matters!

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” Mahatma Gandhi

COVID-19 has initiated a conversation about health as we have never experienced before. With this pandemic we are on the verge of societal change, if we reflect positive transformations within ourselves to the outside as well. With the recent death of Sushant Singh Rajput, an Indian actor who saw no way out other than suicide, mental health has turned to the limelight of the media. Today's article is going to elaborate on how mental health needs to be dealt with on three levels: on an individual or societal, business and governmental level and how everyone of us needs to carry the responsibility of dealing with mental health on a personal and societal level.

Gray Matter matters for you

WHO, the world health organization defines mental health issues being characterized by a 'combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others.' They include disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses. There is a strong stigma connected to mental health diseases. An article in the National Alliance of Mental Illness explains five possible components that case the mental health stigma:

  • Responsibility: there is limited sympathy towards people suffering from mental illnesses, as people carry the perception, that the illness is the responsibility of the patient. This is not true. Education and being mindful on the thoughts about mental disease patients can overcome this stigma.

  • Uncertainty: uncertainty of the outcome / cause of illnesses (both physical and mental) is known to cause fear. And fear is mostly expressed with anger, ignorance or hatred. These emotions can only be overcome with love.

  • Unpredictability: this unpredictability is mostly related to any short-term consequences of the mental disease, that will need to be dealt with. In these situations having faith and patient can help to go through difficult times. And again: education and being mindful on one's thoughts about others going through difficult times can help overcome this stigma.

  • Incompetence: Often mental health illnesses are thought to be connected to weakness. This is very important to overcome with kindness and empathy towards patients. Understanding can go a long way.

  • Dangerousness: The article of the National Alliance of Mental Illness here points out that it is important to see the patient, and not the disease. Such realization can also help overcome the stigma.

Awareness on the reasons of this stigma is important to overcome this stigma - It all starts with you! - one person at a time. In the 21st century we have access to research what mental diseases are about, where they come from and how we can support our surrounding community to deal with them.

Same as for physical illnesses, you can take measures by adjusting your lifestyle to prevent mental illnesses. Prioritizing these preventative measures, such as meditation, physical exercise, therapy, yoga, whatever it might be that suits you best, and talking about this to your community are ways we all can contribute to overcoming this stigma. They say, "Creativity, not normality has become the paradigm of mental health." Deepak Chopra recently gave a talk on Linkedin about how we all humans are actually spiritual human beings who are having a human experience. We all have something divine in us. In each one of us, we have a soul that has the inner intelligence. Deepak Chopra talks about how creativity is the language of our soul. He continues in his talk and quotes Rumi, saying that shedding one's cleverness and embracing one's bewilderness can be helpful to embrace one's destiny and process any mental burdens one might experience.

For those who are going through difficult times, I like to remind myself, that "Anxiety won't change the future and regret won't change the past". Living in the moment is all what mindfulness is about, and has proven to lower the risk of depression and other mental health illnesses.

Gray Matter matters for your job

Within the business environment, it is important for leaders to embrace the consequences of work pressures and facilitate two important subjects: Education and Transparency.

Transparency. The more our managers speak about mental (and physical) health, employees will feel comfortable to express their difficulties, without feeling self-conscious or weak in front of co-workers. As long as leaders can create an environment where all employees, across all hierarchies can openly express feelings and feelings are not associated with weakness, business will be suffering less from employees falling out of work. And even the opposite: such an environment can significantly increase motivation and productivity in the teams. They say, "practice what you preach": leaders in companies need to be living by example within the company. High contextual business cultures with strong hierarchies will have difficulties implementing such transparency, but I strongly believe that Transparency will be essential for sustainable success.

Education/Training. Just as for physical health, preventative measures can be taken for mental health as well. Educating employees on the importance of taking measures to prevent mental health issues is essential to overcome stigma, create an environment of trust, and grow as a company and strong team. It is essential to educate teams on how to deal with pressure at work, difficult situations and facilitate a health work-life-balance. Providing exercise, meditation or yoga facilitations can be useful for employees in a healthy working environment. Not all businesses can afford this, but openly supporting therapy sessions, life coaching or personal development of employees can support prevention of mental health issues.

Transparency and Education/Training are two key elements to create a working environment sustainably beneficial for all employees.

Gray Matter matters for your country

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines: Health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. They say, “There is no health without mental health.” Many countries have not internalized the importance of mental health in this equation yet. The WHO has created a "Special Initiative for Mental Health" with following plan:

With the current pandemic we are in an exceptional situation of awareness towards health. And the suicide of Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput has created a significant sadness within me. And I hope that governments take the responsibility to emphasize on the importance of mental health policies in the individual countries. We need goodhearted decisionmakers in the realm of politics to take decisions that increase awareness on mental health. Sushant's death was no exception, seeing below map showing the fact that mental health is a significant issue. This can be seen in WHO's below graph on suicide rates per country:

Which came first: chicken or egg? That's the question to ask when talking about supplying mental health prevention / cure services, or waiting for the demand to increase first. What's stopping the demand in mental health treatment is stigma, so a conjunction of awareness programs of mental health with an increase in the number of workforce will be significant for any country to tackle the issues of mental health.

Related to above, in below map you can see the Mental health workforce shortages in 58 low- and middle-income countries provided by WHO (FTE, full-time-equivalent.a Data for India and China are from only one province (Uttarakhand province and Hunan province, respectively)).

Next to the integration of mental health, and in order to sustainably change the healthcare systems, we will need to work together to set the incentives of healthcare workers aligned with those of patients - the idea is not new in the "Positive Parivartan" space: pay doctors / healthcare professionals / healthcare workers for when patients are healthy (and not per treatment). Same as for physical health, prevention is important for mental diseases as well. If we manage to create a system, where professionals get paid for keeping people healthy, this world will be a better place. It's the same for physical health, as it is for mental health! My appeal in this blog entry to all people in power: PLEASE, communicate love, communicate on equality, diversity, talent and freedom! Communicate on mental health - make it "normal" to go to a therapist. Spread the message of goodhearted decisionmaking to your friends and family, so we can make the community of goodhearted decisionmakers as big as the world population! UI

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