As defined by the World Health Organization, “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” (WHO). In more recent years, there has been a shift in the medical field to combat the stigma facing mental health with an aim to normalize seeking treatment for mental health the same way one would seek treatment for a physical ailment. As a way to reduce the stigma of mental illness, since 1949 the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has identified May as Mental Health Awareness Month to provide the general public with more information and resources regarding mental illness and mental well-being.
The treatment of mental health has evolved significantly. For example, in the early 1800s, individuals with mental illnesses were permanently institutionalized and subject to cruel treatment and unethical research studies. As the awareness of such maltreatment became known, research and the evolution of a variety of treatment strategies developed. While these treatments were originally harsh and oftentimes damaging (such as electroshock therapy, lobotomies, etc.) more thorough research led to the development of modern treatments such as talk therapies, skill building and medication, administered through a collaborative approach between providers and patients (DualDiagnosis.org). While these improvements throughout time have certainly revolutionized mental health care, there is still more to be done to normalize seeking and making treatment accessible to all individuals.
LIG recognizes the need to include mental health awareness and care along with addressing the physical and medical needs of the patients they serve. Mental health care is a broad topic and better understood in various subtopics. A few particularly important sectors recognized by LIG include maternal, familial and global mental health, as well as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on one’s mental well-being. The following is an outline of these subsections to better understand the particular needs of each unique group.
Maternal mental health: Maternal mental health is a dynamic topic, which has severe and direct implications for both the mother and child. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have recently given birth experience some form of a mental disorder (WHO). More specifically, 15-20% of mothers experience postpartum depression. Oftentimes, these mental illnesses hinder a woman’s ability to function as a mother to her child, which can not only be difficult for a mother to come to terms with, but also have lasting effects on a developing child. Dr. Claudia Pascale, a licensed psychologist who is a mental health reproductive health specialist and member of the LIG Global team, describes the importance of helping her patients build up the emotional resilience to cope with their challenges and to ultimately better themselves and their relationships.
Familial mental health: Mental health problems faced by one family member can have implications on other family members. For example, if a parent has a mental disorder, their child is at a greater risk for developing a mental illness as well; this can be due to genetic predisposition, family environment, or external stress the parent faces that ultimately affects the child (AACAP). For these reasons, it is important to address mental health issues to not only alleviate the suffering of the ill individual but also mitigate the effects it could have on other family members. This is unique from maternal mental health, as that focuses more on the dynamics of building a family, while familial mental health is more focused on the implications of mental health on an already formed family.
Global mental health: All of the problems aforementioned are present worldwide, however studies have identified that they have been exacerbated by lack of sufficient treatment, cultural stigma associated with seeking treatment, and a lack of understanding regarding what mental health is and how it can be treated. For example, Kopinack (2015) describes how the main obstacles facing Uganda’s mental health infrastructure include “a weak referral system (curative, preventive/promotive), skilled staff shortages and stock-outs of pharmaceuticals.” She goes on to explain that mental health services are not fully integrated into primary care in Uganda, making it less accessible to individuals and, thus, less normalized to seek treatment (Kopinack 2015). In order to address this lack of access to care, ultimately leading to higher levels of mental illness in developing countries, it is necessary to provide their healthcare systems with the resources to provide consistent, accessible mental health care to local communities.
Mental health in a pandemic: It is no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has put an additional level of stress on all individuals. From increased time spent in isolation, employment/financial instability, anxiety regarding the health status of one’s self and their loved ones, the average adult experiencing anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder has skyrocketed 30% since January-June of 2019 (11.0%) to January of 2021 (41.1%) (Panchal et. al.). Considering how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted marginalized communities, who also typically do not have consistent access to mental health treatment, it is likely that these communities are facing higher levels of mental health crises. The need for effective mental health treatment is now more dire than it has been for all individuals, but especially for those in marginalized communities.
LIG Global hopes to have a role in addressing many mental health disparities in the near future. With support from Dr. Claudia Pascale, LIG Global hopes to integrate reproductive mental health treatment into its medical programs, which normally have a presence of OB/GYNs. Specifically, LIG Global hopes to have its team of OB/GYNs team up with its psychologists to provide comprehensive maternal healthcare that not only addresses the physical health of the mother and child but also the mental health of the two in order to further improve the health of individuals, as described by WHO’s definition of health. Additionally, there is a hope to utilize cognitive behavioral therapy skills in both inner-city communities and third world countries (both which face higher levels of mental health issues and a lack of care) in order to decrease symptoms, especially in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. By providing communities with education about mental health and basic resources, LIG Global hopes to set up the foundation for these communities to normalize seeking mental health treatment.
While it is without question that mental health is an underserved sector of wellbeing, LIG Global hopes to continue to adapt its objectives to best provide the most comprehensive form of healthcare possible to the communities it engages with. Future steps to engage more directly with mental health will enable LIG Global to utilize medicine, education, and impactful partnerships to transform the lives of those they serve.
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Constitution. Retrieved April 12, 2021, from https://www.who.int/about/who-we-are/constitution
DualDiagnosis. (n.d.). History of mental health treatment. Retrieved April 12, 2021, from https://dualdiagnosis.org/mental-health-and-addiction/history/
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Maternal mental health. Retrieved April 12, 2021, from https://www.who.int/teams/mental-health-and-substance-use/maternal-mental-health
AACAP. (2015, November). Mental illness in families. Retrieved April 12, 2021, from https://www.aacap.org/aacap/families_and_youth/facts_for_families/fff-guide/children-of-parents-with-mental-illness-039.aspx#:~:text=When%20both%20parents%20are%20mentally,other%20drug%20abuse%2C%20or%20depression.
Kopinak, J. (2015). Mental Health in Developing Countries: Challenges and Opportunities in Introducing Western Mental Health System in Uganda. Retrieved April 12, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4948168/
Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Cox, C., & Garfield, R. (2021, February 10). The implications of Covid-19 for mental health and substance use. Retrieved April 12, 2021, from https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/