Fiji is losing young and productive people to mental illness which is a preventable but also a complex phenomenon. Fiji National University’s (FNU) Acting Vice-Chancellor, Dr William May made these comments while speaking at the World Mental Health awareness event organised on Nasinu Campus today.
Dr May said Mental Health is everybody’s business and it was important for everyone to invest in their mental health and wellbeing and build resiliency.
He said people cannot fight Mental Health alone. Dr May emphasised on the need for various sectors to work together to take ownership of our mental health and make the best use of limited resources and expertise.
“Mental health is a public concern which requires a comprehensive, multidisciplinary and integrated approach that includes not only the Government and the health sector but NGOs, CSOs, communities and individuals,” said Dr May.
Using statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr May said that more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression.
“Depression is a common mental disorder,” explained Dr May.
“More women are affected by depression than men. Depression can lead to suicide. Similarly, an estimated 275 million people suffer from anxiety disorders. That’s around 4% of the global population and around 62% of those suffering from anxiety are female.”
Dr May highlighted that it was important to note that worldwide 10-20 percent of children and adolescents experience mental health disorders, where half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14 and three-quarters by mid-20s.
“Neuropsychiatric conditions are the leading cause of disability in young people in all regions. If untreated, these conditions severely influence children’s development, their educational attainments and their potential to live fulfilling and productive lives,” said Dr May.
He said children with mental disorders face major challenges with stigma, isolation and discrimination, as well as lack of access to health care and education facilities, in violation
of their fundamental human rights.
“In addition, a significant majority of those who suffer from a mental illness in Fiji report that they have experienced some form of stigma.”
According to Dr May, in this time of COVID-19, there has been an extraordinary impact on people’s physical, financial and mental wellbeing.
“It is predicted that mental health issues will be the next pandemic. Worldwide one in every four persons will experience a mental health problem or disorder at some stage in their lives.”
“It is vital that mental health interventions, psychosocial support and preventative measures are implemented.”
Meanwhile, Chair of the Executive Board of the Fiji Psychology Society, Dr Roland Schultz suggested using the term ‘psychological health’ as an alternative to mental health.
“Instead of mental actually referring to the mind, which we all assume it does, in every day or colloquial language mental takes out some very different connotations,” said Dr Schultz.
“If we look at some of the slangs where we use the term mental – it means crazy, off the planet or sliding off the roof. It influences how we think about mental health.”
“So if mental health has this negative connotation, then using this term might be regarded as something of a nonsensible contradiction. This makes the term mental health a very difficult message to promote.”
Dr Schultz also acknowledged FNU’s commitment as a University to promote, educate and advocate for mental health.
He challenged the organisers to keep the interest and enthusiasm in promoting this issue outside the mental health awareness month.
FNU in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and the Fiji National University Student Association (FNUSA) organised a month-long mental health awareness campaign to foster wellbeing. University staff and students engaged in activities such as Moving Mondays, Talk time Tuesdays, Wellness Wednesdays, Thankful Thursdays and wellness screenings.