I am a bit breathless. This has been a week chock full of public news and life events that push mental health to the forefront of our attention.
The variety of topics reminds us that mental health is linked to stories near and far, joyful and painful, universal and particular. Here are topics from this week that invite us to consider how and why mental health matters to us all.
1. My Dad Turned 90. Vibrant and living life with enthusiasm and curiosity, my dad is now a nonagenarian! We had a set of family celebrations filled with laughter and stories and connection. Humans are social creatures and relationships are central to protecting and promoting our mental health throughout our lives. Social isolation can be deadly and active participation in community and civic life is a key factor in promoting mental health for all of us, including older adults. These issues were brought home for me this week – personally with my dad’s birthday and professionally as I participated in a program with the first national convening of the Active Aging Network and as we conducted interviews for next year’s class of Health and Aging Policy Fellows Program.
2. WHO Released the World Mental Health Report. For the first time in twenty years, the World Health Organization released a landmark publication reporting on the state of mental health knowledge, programs, policies, and advances globally. With a focus on highlighting evidence-based strategies and successful programs around the world, the World Mental Health Report: Transforming mental health for all, highlights the many ways in which countries have established, updated and strengthened mental health policies and plans. It also highlights the many gaps in capacity and resources that continue to hinder efforts to protect and promote mental health.
3. June is Pride Month and Monday was a U.S. National Holiday in Recognition of Juneteenth. Data from a wide range of studies focused on sexual orientation and race demonstrate unequivocally that stigmatized minority groups are at dramatically increased risk of mental health problems. This is true for the LGBTQ+ community. It is true for the Black American community. It is true for the transgender community. Communities that promote inclusion and belonging can be life saving for otherwise marginalized individuals and groups. As highlighted in a previous Five on Friday, what the LGBTQ+ community did in the sixties by constructing safe and supportive environments for individuals to find purpose and social connection is what we are fighting to establish for individuals with serious and persistent mental illness today.
4. Afghanistan Experiences a 5.9 Earthquake. This past Wednesday, the deadliest earthquake in Afghanistan in two decades took the lives of somewhere between several hundred and more than a thousand individuals. It destroyed more than 10,000 homes in remote provinces of the country. Humanitarian crises increase risk for mental health crises, whether we are discussing the plight of refugees and displaced persons due to war as has been the case in Syria and Ukraine or natural disaster as is the case following this week’s earthquake in Afghanistan. Global humanitarian aid organizations such as the International Rescue Committee are increasingly incorporating mental health in their programs that support and empower impacted communities.
5. Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade Today. As anticipated, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade today, which effectively eliminated the decades-long constitutional right to abortion that has been upheld for nearly fifty years in the U.S. there are many issues and values packed in this decision. The Turnaway Study conducted by the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health describes the mental health, physical health, and socioeconomic consequences of receiving an abortion compared to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. The main finding is that receiving an abortion does not harm the health and wellbeing of women, but in fact, being denied an abortion results in worse financial, health and family outcomes. Global Turnaway Studies are underway in Bangladesh, Colombia, Nepal, South Africa, and Tunisia—all countries where abortion is legally available—to measure the incidence and reasons for denial of abortion.
In the whirlwind of events and activities this week, mental health considerations abound- for good and for bad. Much to ponder. Time to take a breath. Time to take a break.