United Academy

Mental Health Literacy for Suicide Prevention

May 09, 2020
Last updated July 15, 2021
KMC Lalitpur


Dr. Narendra Singh Thagunna and Dawa Sherpa - Since the first case of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) diseases was diagnosed in December 2019, more than 269,867 have lost their lives. The mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic might be profound and there are assumptions that suicide rates will rise. Suicide is a public health problem that is neglected by researchers, health policymakers, and medical professionals. Globally, approximately one million people kill themselves every year which represents a global mortality rate of 11 per 100,000. Similarly, with 24.9 suicides per 100,000 people, Nepal has the seventh-highest suicide death in the world. The reviews of the Nepal Police’s five-year data more than 5,000 Nepalese commit suicide every year. Mental health stigma in the community is one of the major causes of suicide risk. There are social, economic, cultural, health, and behavioral risk factors associated with suicides. According to the police department, in this time of global pandemic COVID-19, 492 people have committed suicide between March 29 and April 30.

The consequences of social distancing may increase the risk of suicide. Individuals experiencing suicidal ideation may lack connections to other people and often disconnect from others as suicide risk rises. Many South Asian people attend various community or religious activities like aarati, puja, bhajan, kirtan, and worshiping. Research evidence shows that weekly attendance at religious services has been associated with a 5-fold lower suicide rate compared with those who do not attend. It is important to consider changes in a variety of economic, psychosocial, and health-associated risk factors. There are fears that the combination of canceled public events, closed businesses, and shelter-in-place strategies will lead to depression. Doctors have already the highest reported suicide rates, more than double the general population according to some surveys. This at-risk group is now serving in the front lines of the battle against COVID-19. Frontline healthcare workers are struggling with both mental and physical burdens stemming from the surge of patient deaths related to COVID-19. 

Mental Health Literacy (MHL) is defined as knowledge about mental health disorders that are associated with their recognition, management, and prevention. MHL introduced by Jorm and colleagues to refer to public knowledge and recognition of mental disorders, as well as knowing how and where to seek help. Two of the United Nations' (UN) Sustainability Development Goals are Good Health and Well-Being (SDG-3) and Quality Education (SDG-4). Like others, these goals are related and of considerable importance to advance the welfare and people world-wide. 

Mental Health Awareness Month is celebrated each year in May to fight stigma, suicide prevention, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for policies in favor of people with mental illness and their families, which also focuses on suicide which can be given rise by some mental illness. Mental Health America Organization started the awareness month in 1949. In Nepal, The School of Psychology Nepal and Psychdesk Foundation started the awareness month in 2017. Mental Health Awareness Month is celebrated each year in May to fight stigma, suicide prevention, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for policies in favor of people with mental illness and their families, which also focuses on suicide which can be given rise by some mental illness. Mental Health America Organization started the awareness month in 1949. In Nepal, The School of Psychology Nepal and Psychdesk Foundation started the awareness month in 2017. 

Challenges and difficulties are faced by all hence it is believed that 1 in 5 people will experience mental illness during their lifetime. Lake of public knowledge about mental disorders (mental health literacy) has received much less attention. There is proof from reviews in a few nations for inadequacies in the open's information on the best way to forestall mental disarranges, acknowledgment of when confusion is creating, information on help-chasing choices and medications accessible, information on viable self-improvement techniques for milder issues, and emergency treatment abilities to help others influenced by emotional wellness issues. Increasing the community's mental health literacy community is empowered to take action for better mental health which is useful for preventing suicide in the community level.

This year the theme for 2020 Mental Health Awareness Month is ‘Tools 2 Thrive” intending to provide practical tools that can be used by everyone for their mental health betterment and increase resiliency regardless of the situation they are dealing with. The month of May has never been more important than now for us. The world is facing a major crisis. As Andrew of WHO says “Looking at the broader picture, disruption to society are having a profound impact. As people’s live are disrupted, isolated and upturned. We must stop the pandemic from turning into a crisis of mental health”. All 5 out of 5 can be affected by worry, isolation, loneliness, and anxiety due-to COVID-19.

Furnham and Hamid (2014) reviewed over 30 studies with a particular focus on east-west comparisons. There were many correlates of MHL including age, gender and socioeconomic status. Urban populations tend to show greater recognition of both depression and schizophrenia than rural populations, as well as being more likely to recommend a mental health professional for either disorder. MHL remains at a relatively low level in most developing nations such as South Asia (Furnham, Raja & Khan, 2008; Deane & McLeod, 2009).  In particular, many communities in developing nations continue to locate the origin of mental health disorders in the social (primarily failure to observe religious or social norms, or to perform essential rituals) and supernatural worlds (such as possession by spirits or ghosts) (Bener & Ghuloum, 2011). Not surprisingly, then, individuals from developing nations are also more likely to use non-traditional forms of treatment, such as visiting witch-doctors and indigenous healers (Swami, Loo & Furnham. 2010; Banerjee & Roy, 1998).

Mental Health Month toolkit this year on resiliency offers tools to thrive at any time even for short term of social distancing. They have provided bonus materials in the toolkit focusing specially on Coronavirus and how all can wok towards mental health in the face of uncertainty. More resources will be added as the weeks prolong to Mental Health Month. We firstly believe mental health screening is essential in such times of stress. It's more than important now to take care of our mental health. Secondly, they look forward and to focus on what we need to do to thrive in uncertainty and the tools provided this year will also help us do just that.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed the lifestyle of the people in a short period. It's hard adjusting with isolation, distancing and quarantine; the changes can be daunting with so much happening. It can be stressful with so much happening fear for of our loved ones health and our own, financial issues, taking care of sick people, adjusting to new routine, and supplies shortage all can cause anxiety in people. We can't control the uncertainty however we can control and focus on things that can bring us comfort. 

This year theme of Mental Health Awareness Month focuses on that too, with the theme Tools 2 Thrive; it focuses on building resiliency and mental wellbeing of the people focusing on coronavirus especially. This year focuses on how we can keep our calmness and build ourselves stronger with the each passing day, Being stronger doesn't mean not feeling any distress or trauma, it means having the energy to survive even after adversity. This year we have focuses more in our mental health than ever, Mental Health America has provided some topics which covers on ways we can build up our resiliency from connecting with others during such tough times, to owning our feelings to better cope with challenging situations, supporting others in the right way, creating our healthy routines for normality or elimination toxic people from our life for our good and finding the food after losses, this year cover ways to build up ourselves and others to face any difficulties.

History of Mental Health Awareness Month in Nepal 

TSOP Nepal and Psychdesk Foudation have been leading the same campaign since 2017 following the theme provided by the Mental Health America Organization through various events and programs. It also aims to provide awareness on Suicide Prevention as its major objective.

Risky Business: Internet Addiction, Sex, Marijuana use, and Exercise: 

In 2017, with the theme of ‘Risky Business: Internet Addiction, Sex, Marijuana use and Exercise”2 Training of Trainer (TOT) sessions were conducted with association of Psychdesk Foundation where 35 individuals participated.  Workshops on Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) were also conducted with the theme: “Anyone, anywhere can be the one to make a difference in the life of someone with a mental health or substance challenge- if they know what to do and what to say.” to help participants identify, understand and respond to signs of Mental illness and substance abuse disorders in their community different organizations staffs, social workers, Nurses and students participated. In May, Suicide Prevention Awareness Program was conducted in 9 different colleges of Jhapa and Kathmandu were all together 640 students participated. Total of 3 events of ‘2day Suicide Prevention Facilitation Training’ were also provided to 38 individual who were organizational staffs, social workers, nurses and students.

Fitness 4Mind 4Body:

In 2018, Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM) was celebrated with the theme of "Fitness 4Mind 4Body". As part of Mental Health Awareness Month Program TSOP we have conducted 25 events of Suicide Prevention Orientation in various school and colleges of Bhaktapur where altogether 248 students were oriented about the present status of suicide, its causes, symptoms and ways to prevent it. Education is one of the major form of stressor in many students life as they are pressured to achieve high scores such pressure can lead to anxiety and stresses in students. TSOP Nepal taught effective study habit and important techniques to studying along PTSD, Anxiety and Stress Management programs for school going students in Kathmandu where a total of 47 students participated. 

We have to see a person’s whole health and make use of the tools and resources that benefit minds and bodies together. The theme focused on what we as individuals can do to be fit for our future- no matter where we happen to be in our journeys to health and wellness. Based on the theme Training for Trainers (TOT) was conducted to 7 students of Psychology graduate and related fields who later conducted various events in communities.

Kachhahari: Mental Health Literacy Campaign for Suicide Prevention:

For 2019, the theme was Mental Health Well-being #4body4mind. The School of Psychology Nepal is the national non-government, non-profit organization established to develop Mental Health Situation in Nepal. TSOP conducted "Kachahari: Mental health literacy campaign" and including all related sub-subject TSOP supported "Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM)" collaboration with Psychdesk Foundation. 55 events of Kachhari Mental health literacy campaign for Suicide Prevention in the form of Mental Health Well-being #4body4mind. TSOP conducted programs on Social Connections and Recreations, humor, work-life Balance, Spirituality, and Religion.

Mental wellbeing through TOOLS2THRIVE:

For 2020, the theme is"TOOLS2THRIVE". TSOP conducted "Kachahari: Mental health literacy campaign" and including all related sub-subject TSOP supported "Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM)" collaboration with Psychdesk Foundation, Association of Psychologists in Nepal (APN), Nasirulla Psychotherapy Dhaka University and Indian Academy of Health Psychology(IAHP). We have conducted 4 events through Webinar on TOOLS 2 THRIVE" for psychologists and social workers, teachers, and parents.

During COVID19 Pandemic talking with professionals like psychologists, counselors, and psychosocial Workers can be one of the great ways to eliminate stress thought there are many ways mentioned in self-help books, articles, videos, and so on. Professional help can be more structured and tailored to our needs. TSOP Nepal focuses on resiliency building through psychosocial support by free teleservices as a part of the Mental Health Awareness Month. We have more than 50+ volunteers with a counseling background. They have also focused on the capacity building of individuals through virtual seminars on the Mental Health Program at the community level. Taking steps to manage anxiety during COVID-19 can be difficult but there are additional resources that can help. 

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