Why we must invest in mental health everywhere

The past year and a half has been full of many ups and downs. The world and our way of living has constantly been changing and we have all been trying to adapt to a “new normal”. This can take a huge toll on our emotional wellbeing and mental health. Research shows that rates of anxiety and depression have almost tripled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are all triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.

Last year we were all adapting to lockdown, isolation, working from home and a generally slower paced life. However, as lockdown and restrictions ease, many people now find themselves facing anxiety dealing with these “new” circumstances, perhaps going back to our offices or work and generally getting back to a faster paced life, which we may no longer be used to.

It is important to listen to our bodies and minds and to take things slowly. We should remember to always give ourselves ‘me-time’, whether it is 15 minutes of meditation every day, going for a walk, taking a long hot shower/bath, shutting off with some music or just sitting with a cup of tea. Me-time involves shutting off from not only our physical world but any overpowering and intrusive thoughts as well. It is to be present in the moment and not dwell on the past or stress about the future.

We should remember to reach out and communicate when we are feeling overwhelmed or overburdened. Recognising ones’ emotions and taking early steps can prevent our mental health from deteriorating. We can all do our part when it comes to supporting others as well as ourselves. Let’s make a promise to invest in mental health - whether it’s going for therapy ourselves, taking the time out to ask someone else how they feel, supporting a colleague or employee, donating to an organisation working with mental health, or simply sharing and raising awareness on social media. The more we normalise speaking up about our mental health, the more time and effort we invest in asking others about their mental health, the more the world will start to prioritise mental health and allocate more resources to help overcome the mental health crisis we are now facing.

The British Asian Trust has been sensitive towards the importance of mental health even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why one of our flagship programmes was set up to support mental health.

Pakistan is currently facing a mental health crisis, with over 50 million people estimated to be experiencing mental health issues. Due to the stress, and devastation of lives and livelihoods due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number is only likely to have increased. Keeping that in mind, throughout the pandemic we have worked diligently with local partners to offer support to marginalised communities and people in the country.

We are proud to say that over the past three years, we have reached 16 million people with mental health messaging through mass media campaigns, and connected with approximately 140,000 people through helplines during COVID-19 pandemic to offer support. Almost 20,000 people with mental health issues have received quality clinical support thanks to the our projects and we have trained 2,000 essential frontline practitioners, including community health workers, lay counsellors, nurses, and doctors, in basic mental health awareness.

But our work is far from over, in the next phase of our Mental Health programme, we are keen on ensuring that adolescents have access to mental health and psycho-social support and on improving the wellbeing environment in schools. Our new two-year project is training teachers across 80 schools on identification of basic mental health issues within the classroom and providing appropriate referrals, and will reach over 800 at risk adolescents.

We will continue working on highlighting the importance of mental health so no man, woman or child is ever left to suffer alone or in silence.

By Sanaa Ahmad, Mental Health Manager (Pakistan), British Asian Trust.
October 2021