Mental health ‘must get equal status to physical well-being’

THE National Health Strategy needs to be reviewed to give the promotion of mental health equal status to that of physical health, Mental Health Ireland said yesterday.

Speaking on World Mental Health Day, the voluntary organisation identified the relationship between physical and mental well-being as a factor relevant to every individual. However, it said efforts to promote healthy living under the existing health strategy tended to overlook the area of mental health.

“We are calling for the development of the national health strategy with a positive focus on the promotion of mental health,” said Mental Health Ireland deputy chief executive Caroline McGrath.

“There is confusion about what mental health means, and it is about much more than the absence of mental illness - it is about how we feel about ourselves, how we cope with other people and the demands of life,” she continued. A recent study showed that one in 10 people experienced some form of mental illness, while three-quarters of people know someone with mental health problems.

Mental Health Ireland has commissioned the most comprehensive study ever undertaken to examine attitudes to mental health and survey people’s understanding of relationships between mental and physical health. The results of the study, which will be carried out by Professor Kieran O’Boyle, will be used to inform policymakers about a specific national mental health promotion strategy.

“We are all very aware of the strategies and investments to improve physical health through the promotion of sports, exercise and fitness, diet, anti-smoking and anti-obesity initiatives,” said MHI chief executive Brian Howard.

“However, in the increasingly stressful environment experienced by people at all levels, there is a need to be equally imaginative in promoting positive health measures,” he added.

The Irish Heart Foundation has identified poor mental health as a major contributory factor in cardiovascular disease. Similarly, it is understood that physical illness can cause distress, anxiety or depression and hamper recovery.

Many of the 95 local associations affiliated to Mental Health Ireland yesterday hosted local events to promote the objectives of World Mental Health Day.

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