October 10 is commemorated as World Mental Health Day to raise awareness on mental health issues and mobilize efforts in support of mental health and well-being. Mental health is one’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It includes one’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior. 

The focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day is “40 Seconds of Action”. The objective is to raise awareness about the surging numbers of suicides. Every year about 800,000 people die due to suicide, which makes it one suicide every 40 seconds (WHO). In India, around 2.2 lakh people die by suicide every year, however, for every 225,000 people, there is only one psychiatrist available. 

Just as we have problems with physical health, we can also have problems with our mental health. Just as how physical health issues have causes and treatments, mental health issues also have causes and treatments available. There is an increasing number of mental health problems, especially depression, observed throughout the world. As H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama always emphasizes, as there is an increasing value on material development in today’s world, the feeling of loneliness has also increased, which in turn has increased the need for mental health care. Our Tibetan society is not immune to mental health problems. Unfortunately, there are cases of suicides reported in our community and this points to the need for mental health care and awareness programs in our community. 

Suicide does not have one single cause. The interrelation of social, psychological, and cultural factors such as poverty, discrimination, loss of close person, trauma, substance abuse, etc. play a role in increasing vulnerability towards suicidal behaviors. Some of the signs and symptoms can be talking about wanting to die or kill oneself, talking about feeling trapped or having no purpose, talking about being a burden to others, sleeping too much or too little, giving away belongings, isolating oneself, and displaying mood swings and behaviors. 

If you know someone who has indicated they are contemplating suicide, take them seriously. Encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional and don’t leave them alone. 

Educating yourself and your loved ones about mental health care is important. General tips for taking care of your mental health include eating well, having an active lifestyle- exercising, sleeping well, having healthy habits. On the other hand, if you see some of these changes in someone else, approach them and ask them if they want to talk about it rather than talking behind their back. Listen to someone when they are sharing their feelings. Listening has been proven to be the strongest antidote to mental health problems, it validates others feelings and make them feel less lonely. 

The Department of Health and Central Tibetan Administration treat mental health as a priority. By taking the availability of our rich cultural resources into consideration, the Department of Health is planning on forming a mental health advisory committee comprising of members from fields of Buddhism, Sowa Rigpa, and Western psychology. The committee will play a vital role in guiding the department in implementation of the draft mental health programs developed during leadership workshop at Sangath, a renowned mental health research and training institution in India. We are also conducting the first survey on mental health in collaboration with Sangath. This will help in strengthening and developing plans to promote mental well-being.

If you know anyone facing mental health issues in your community, please reach out to the nearest health center or settlement office. Medical and counseling cost reimbursement of up to 50% is provided by the department. 

As quoted by Sikyong Lobsang Sangay at the opening ceremony of 10th Body, Mind, and Life Conference, “Mental health is important for the old, the young, and the middle”, therefore, caring for mental health in our community is a responsibility of each and every individual.

 

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