Voices

Mental Health is an Urgent Public Health Issue and Action is Needed Now

In the UK, suicide is the biggest cause of death for men up to the age of 49, and our emotional well-being must no longer be shrugged off.

by Hussain Manawar
Oct 8 2017, 3:30pm

Photo courtesy of the author. 

This is an opinion-piece by Hussain Manawer a London-based poet, mental health campaigner and One Young World ambassador. One Young World is an international forum that brings together leaders ages 18-30 to address important global issues.

Two years ago, I stood on London's Oxford Street, bandana over my eyes, arms outstretched. At my feet, a homemade cardboard sign read: "If you have been through / are going through depression or anxiety, hug me."

People embraced me that day; sometimes they'd share a secret, sometimes they'd hold me in silence.

Whatever they said – and regardless of whether they chose to make their mental health status public – I walked away knowing that a positive state of mind revolves around making human connections.

It reminded me of a powerful letter Vincent Van Gogh - who famously struggled with mental health - once wrote to his brother: "We are brothers, are we not? And friends – and we may say candidly what we think, and if I act indiscreetly by saying what I think, forgive me for my indiscretion."

Despite all its brilliance, humanity still searches for a hand to hold, an ear to bend, reassurance that we have not yet abandoned it. But this basic need is not being met.


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Last month, the UK's National Health Service revealed one in three sick notes handed out by British doctors are for mental health problems. At any one time, a sixth of the population in England aged 16 to 64 has a mental health problem. Tragically, suicide is the biggest killer of men up to the age of 49. Distressing statistics that signal just how much of the mountain there is still to climb.

I've campaigned on mental health issues for years and I often open my talks with: 'My name is Hussain and my problem is I care too much.' It's my way of reminding the audience that we've lost our way when it comes to caring for those around us but I want to change that.

At any one time, a sixth of the population in England aged 16 to 64 has a mental health problem.

Technology is treated as our great savior; but screens, Wi-Fi and algorithms make it easier to connect with someone on the other side of the world than with someone in the same room. Take time away from the artificial and, instead, engage with real intelligence.

Jenny Edwards, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, puts the issue into sharp relief: "At some point in our life most of us are likely to experience a mental health problem … We know that only a minority of people experiencing mental ill-health access professional support, which means that we need to redouble our efforts to prevent mental health problems from developing in the first place."

My native UK has put an extra £1.4bn towards mental health provision in the last three years, but funding alone is not sufficient. We can do more.

"We know that only a minority of people experiencing mental ill-health access professional support, which means that we need to redouble our efforts to prevent mental health problems from developing in the first place."

Alongside the University of London's King's College, I'm developing a lesson plan for young people to help deal with depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. It's through imaginative projects like these that open up safe spaces to talk about mental health that we will begin to make headway.

Not long after I stood out in a London street, inviting people to share their struggles with mental health, I went to Bangkok with One Young World – the annual gathering of young people from around the globe united in their vision of a brighter future – and performed a poem about the need to get personal with mental health problems.

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I was in awe at the reception it received – that so many young people also share my concerns and are ready to help try and find solutions. Mental health threatens humanity's progress and, if allowed, it will limit the potential of millions around the world. It is a global threat with no global response - yet.

We have to rewrite the script on how loudly and proudly we talk about mental health. It really is ok not to be ok. Keeping a mental state of mind can be extremely difficult so we need to work together as humans, friends, families and neighbors, to find therapeutic treatments and cures.

The idea that we should 'shrug it off' no longer has a place in today's society. Speak up, speak out. Let's talk about mental health. That's how we can challenge it and how we can beat it. That's how we can save lives. This time, it's personal.