The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

#SpeakUpForMentalHealth

Sunday, 15 May 2022, 10:02 Last update: about 2 months ago

Denis Vella Baldacchino Gertrude A. Buttigieg

It is not OK to hide one’s feelings of psychological distress, since acknowledging that one is not feeling well, whether physically or psychologically, is normal and to be encouraged.

Unfortunately, up till the recent past, expressing oneself as not feeling well psychologically or emotionally was perceived as a sign of weakness or failure. This led to suffering and long- term effects due to unrecognised and untreated problems and possible isolation.

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The Office of the Commissioner for the Rights of Mental Disorders (Malta) has joined the initiative of Mental Health Europe (MHE) on the third edition of the #EuropeanMentalHealthWeek held last week between 9 and 13 May. This year’s theme #SpeakUpForMentalHealth will shine the spotlight on youth mental health as a high-profile societal issue now and in the future. This is very relevant considering the impact of mental health on the lives of the young generation, today and for their future and the future of society at large. Any changes in the Mental Health system require inter-organisational action to ensure adequate prevention of mental health problems, meaningful empowerment and active engagement of young people in decisions about their mental health, and targeted mental health support at every stage of their life. Policies need to be active, not reactive and targeted with clear ownership, commitments and funding.

 

Ensure adequate prevention of mental health problems

Like any other health conditions mental health problems can be prevented. Mindfulness training helps to teach children and adolescents to know better themselves and their mental health and wellbeing. More intense action is required across all ages, especially the young and adolescents to increase Mental Health Literacy highlighting how and where to access services in a timely manner. International research shows that 50% of mental health problems affecting adults start at adolescence. Preventive programmes among youths will positively impact those at higher risk in society. There needs to be an inter-ministerial and inter-organisational joint effort across different sectors to build resilience in the younger generations so they will be better equipped to manage problems that cumulatively lead to mental health problems.

 

Meaningfully empower and actively engage young people in decisions about their mental health

Empowerment needs to entail that youths understand and accept that “it is OK not to be OK”. One needs to then seek out support from the right place and professional people at the right time. This will help them develop their full potential and truly achieve their dreams and live their life to the full. It is very encouraging to see that in Malta there are a number of active organisations from Health, Education and the Civil society who are actively offering a wide range of services in mental health to support in the field of prevention, therapeutic and rehabilitation level should one experience mental health problems. More collaboration is required to ensure that access to services is easy and widespread without undue delay and bureaucracy.

 

Provide targeted mental health support at every stage

Youth mental health can impinge on the wellbeing of family members, carers, friends and educators. As a result, youth mental health needs to be everybody’s responsibility and everyone has a part to play. Youths are tomorrow’s adults and thus targeting youths is a lifetime investment on our society. If we ignore the mental health of children, we undercut their capacity to learn, work, build meaningful relationships and contribute to the world. When we ignore the mental health of parents and caregivers, we fail to support them to nurture and care for their children to the best of their ability. And when we ignore mental health issues in our societies, we close off conversation, reinforce stigma and prevent children, caregivers and all who need support from seeking the help they need.

Mental health concerns everyone. The Office of the Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Mental Disorders is legally set up to safeguard the rights of persons with mental health problems. The agenda is vast and complex. We want to be pro-active and want our policy makers and society to commit to youth mental health and build a brighter future for the individual and society.

Mental health matters so we must speak up to shine a light on youth mental health and keep the spotlight on mental health now and tomorrow. Mental health is essential and we need to invest in adequate prevention, meaningful empowerment and targeted support so everyone can shine. #SpeakUpForMentalHealth

 

Dr Denis Vella Baldacchino is Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Mental Disorders and Gertrude A. Buttigieg is a Higher Speech Language Practitioner

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