The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

TMIS Editorial - Mental health: the pandemic no one talks about

Sunday, 26 June 2022, 10:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Disclaimer: We borrowed the title of this editorial from a press release issued by the Richmond Foundation this week.

We did this because the above is such a powerful and truthful statement, one that deserves much thought and must be followed up with meaningful action.

The foundation was giving its reaction to the tragic passing away of Nicholas Camilleri, a beloved father who took his own life after struggling with mental illness for almost two decades.

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Echoing his family’s words, Richmond said Camilleri was failed by the system and, like many others, he was treated as just a statistic.

According to the family, Nicholas had been taken off his effective medication without explanation. His relatives were never informed about this. Camilleri’s condition, which had been stable for over 15 years, started to deteriorate. His condition manifested into hallucinations and paranoia. He started to believe that his wife was unfaithful and, in a moment of confusion he attacked her and went to prison for it.

His family always understood that this was not really their father who was acting in this way but rather the illness that had taken over him. They loved him till the end.

Yet not everyone in society can be so understanding. There is still a big stigma on mental illness, especially when it comes to the more serious cases.

It is a known fact that the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated mental health issues, yet this is a pandemic we do not talk about. Mental health is a subject we are widely uninformed about, it is a topic we often choose to ignore or avoid, yet it affects one in four adults globally.

According to Malta’s mental health strategy for the coming decade, in 2014, 4.2% of deaths in Malta were attributed to mental and behavioural disorders (the EU average is 3.7%) with dementia being the most common cause.

Men are seven times more likely to self-harm than women.

The Maltese are less likely to report that they suffer from depression than the European average.

5.3% of Maltese reported suffering from depression, while 7.9% said they suffered from chronic anxiety (yet, only half that number took medication).

Up to 50% of mental disorders in the adult population begin in adolescence before the age of 14 years.

Persons with mental disorders die 20 years earlier than the general population.

The incidence of psychosis in Malta within the general population has been estimated to be 26 per 100,000 with urbanisation, low socio-economic status and immigration being identified as potential risk factors.

Yet, despite these staggering statistics, despite how common mental health illness is, many patients still feel ashamed and misunderstood.

Mental health is a serious condition that can lead to self-harm and death, but sufferers are often told that they are exaggerating, making a big fuss out of nothing.

And the case of Nicholas Camilleri shows us that it is not only society that fails these people, but sometimes also the system.

The Richmond Foundation pointed out that people who suffer with mental health issues are often treated as just numbers.

“He was a vulnerable member of our society. He died because his and his family’s voices were not heard. He died because those who loved him were not allowed to get the answers they sought, to contribute their perspective of the situation. He died because he was just another case, another number, another statistic.”

The foundation spoke about the need to give people a voice, dignity, respect and understanding they need in the community, not in institutions.

“This is the pandemic no one talks about – people's poor mental health due to a plethora of stressful life situations has led to an unrelenting demand for help. We support people throughout their life journey to avoid something like this from happening, because no one should ever lose their life because they are carrying the burden of mental illness,” it said.

Likewise, former Nationalist MP Mario Galea, who speaks openly about his mental health struggles, called for an inquiry into this case, not to identify a scapegoat, but to find out what happened and how such a tragedy can be avoided in the future.

Indeed, an investigation into the matter is warranted. If this was truly a failure of the system, the shortcomings must be identified and addressed. We must do this not only to bring closure and justice to Nicholas’ family, but also to ensure that others who like him are suffering in silence find the courage to come forward, knowing that there is a system that will provide them with the necessary assistance.

 

 

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