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Mental ill-health: A societal problem

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25.JAN.08

The shocking revelation this week about the high incidence of adolescent mental instability, reported on page 3, and the resultant numerous cases of attempted suicide by young females, are more than enough to startle us into looking for solutions.{{more}} Whether we would be so moved, save for temporary concern, is another matter, for ours is a society where attitudes to mental ill-health are still at primitive levels. We are still dismissive of such cases, and even a case of nervous breakdown can leave a person permanently scarred and discriminated against in the society.

What is very worrying is that the causes identified for such a high incidence of mental ill-health are largely societal and, therefore, can be addressed by appropriate policies and actions. The prevalence of violence in the society itself, in the media and in the home features prominently. Not surprisingly, young women, often the target of domestic abuse, are prone to be victims. Then there is parental neglect and inconsistent parenting, children often bandied about from mother to granny to aunt or other relatives.

When to all these you add the moral drift and general breakdown in discipline, the lack of regard for the welfare of others, not to mention the evils of drug abuse, then we truly have a massive problem on our hands. There are no simple solutions, and it cannot be left up to any one institution or body, not government alone, nor the church only, nor the educational system, for it to be addressed adequately. Since it is a problem of the society, we all must be involved in finding solutions.

The first step must be to create public awareness of the problem and how it affects us all. The media has a vital part to play in building such awareness and in educating the public. It cannot just be a one-off sensational story setting tongues wagging, only for us to move on next week. One expects the Government via the Ministries of Health, Education and Social Welfare to take the lead in formulating a national strategy and plan to address the matter. But this can be one area where cross-party co-operation can set the tone in the Opposition not only coming on board but working side by side with the Government. This can only give encouragement to the legion of social and religious organizations in the society to get actively involved. The danger is real and demands positive united and committed action.

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