Written by Daniel Jeannetot and Sophia Röckel on behalf of the United Nations Youth Association of Denmark Global Health Working Group
Edited by Julie Franck and Sinéad O’Ferrall
“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” [Abraham Lincoln]
Have you ever asked yourself what makes your day a happy day? Is it staying in bed forever? Meeting Friends? Maybe going for a run in the park?
What if these decisions were not yours to make? Life happens spontaneously. Some of the plans you make might not pass the test of reality.
Maybe you have been looking forward to that football match for weeks, but you did not plan on breaking your leg. Or being diagnosed with cancer makes you wonder about your future.
At first glance those conditions, like many others, seem to be primarily physical yet that would be missing parts of the bigger picture. They say a healthy mind comes in a healthy body. However, does that not imply an unhealthy body can lead to an unhealthy mind?
Mental disorders are “generally characterized by some combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour”. Think of anxiety, schizophrenia, depression, as well as disorders due to drug abuse. It is estimated that 8 million deaths worldwide could be linked to mental disorders. However, the crux is that mental disorders don’t necessarily lead to death but rather have a negative impact on your quality of life. Indeed, 183.9 million DALYs (Daily-Adjusted Life-Years) are lost globally every year. In high income countries, mental disorders account for the highest number of DALYs lost.
Nonetheless, these numbers only represent the individuals diagnosed with mental conditions, and not everyone impacted by it. Families taking care of affected relatives need to provide ongoing physical and emotional support, which can have negative impacts on their social and professional life. Additionally, they often carry the associated stigmas and discriminations due to mental conditions. And this does not take into account the economic charge put on families.
It is important to understand that people affected by mental disorders often are aware of the situation they put their relatives in, and therefore tend to isolate themselves, hoping to decrease the burden. In the end, a suicide is committed by a person with a mental condition every 40 seconds, which ultimately leads to even greater suffering for the relatives.
The ripples of mental illness also spread throughout society as depression, anxiety, nervous breakdowns, etc, with enormous costs for the wellbeing of a society. According to the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel: “the global economic costs of mental illness over the next two decades would exceed the costs of cancer, diabetes and respiratory ailments combined”.
Mental health, however, is not just the absence of mental disorders. It is rather a “state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities”. In a sense, a mentally healthy person is a happy person. While mental disorders consist of numerous sets of conditions, reasons to be happy overwhelmingly outnumber those conditions.
The United Nations joyfully agree with us and marked the 20th of March as the International Day of Happiness.
The Global Health Group of the United Nations Youth Association of Denmark (UNYA DK) works to raise awareness among youth about global health issues. We are part of UNYA DK, which is a youth-led association working for meaningful youth participation in UN related issues.
To celebrate the International Day of Happiness, we are running a campaign on social media. Follow @UNYADK_ GH on Twitter and read our daily #HappyNews on awesome happy health facts. And, starting from the 13th of March until the International Day of Happiness “Humans of Copenhagen” are going to share their stories about mental health on the UNYA DK Facebook page .