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Sunday Readings: Breaking The Taboo and Dispelling Stigmas

By Oscar Gonzalez

October 10th was not just another day on the calendar. It was a day that reminded us about one of the most important and yet neglected aspects of human well-being: mental health. But why do we celebrate World Mental Health Day on this specific date, and what's the significance behind it?

Let's see.

The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), a global organization that works to promote mental health and prevent mental disorders, chose October 10th as the date to highlight the importance of mental health and to commemorate the establishment of their organization in 1948. Each year, the WFMH selects a theme for the day and this year’s campaign addresses the importance of mental health as universal human right, a right for all people, regardless of age, gender, culture, or background.

But isn't mental health something personal and private that we should deal with ourselves or with our close ones? The answer is no. Mental health isn’t a solitary battle; it affects everyone. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four people worldwide will have a mental or neurological disorder in their lives. It could be you, your neighbor, a friend, a co-worker or a family member, and that is OK.

Mental health problems are more common than we think, and they are treatable, but they are often misunderstood and stigmatized. Many people with mental disorders suffer discrimination, violence, and human rights violations. They also struggle to access quality care and support, due to lack of resources, awareness, or trained professionals. The consequence? Many suffer in silence, hesitant to seek help or share their experiences.

This is why we need to create a culture of openness, empathy, and respect for people with mental health problems. We need to recognize that mental health is not a taboo or a weakness, but a part of who we are and how we “deal” with life.

Recognizing Mental Health

One way to do this is to learn more about mental health and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health problem. Some of the most common mental disorders include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These disorders can affect anyone's well-being, relationships, and performance in various aspects of life.

Some of the common signs of a person having a mental health problem include:

  • Feeling sad or down

  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate.

  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt.

  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows

  • Withdrawal from friends and activities

  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping

  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations

  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress

  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people

  • Problems with alcohol or drug use

  • Major changes in eating habits

  • Sex drive changes

  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence

  • Suicidal thinking

Reaching Out

If you notice any of these signs in yourself or someone you care about, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Start a conversation. Let them know that you are concerned about them and that you are willing to listen without judgment.

  • Listen. Give them your full attention and let them share as much or as little as they want.

  • Validate. Acknowledge their emotions and experiences without minimizing or dismissing them.

  • Offer help. Ask them what they need or want from you.

  • Take care of yourself. Supporting someone with a mental health problem can be stressful and exhausting.

Recently, many elite athletes, NBA players, celebrities, and other public figures have opened up about their own struggles with mental health issues as a way to break the silence and challenge the stigma around mental health. They have used their platforms and influence to inspire millions of people to seek help and support for their own mental health challenges, and they have also shown that having a mental health problem does not define who you are or what you can achieve in life.

Initiatives like World Mental Health Day are opportunities to take action to improve it. It is a day to talk about mental health openly and honestly, to learn more about it and how to help ourselves and others, and to remind us that mental health is not a taboo or a weakness. It is a part of who we are and how we cope with life. It is a daily thing that we all need to take care of.

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