President Karis: The cost of mental health problems cannot be ignored
In a video address at the opening of a meeting of the Mental Health Coalition of the World Health Organisation (WHO) today, President Alar Karis said that the cost and burden of mental health problems can no longer be ignored. “We have an important duty to fulfil,” he said. “It is arguably one of the most critical missions of the century we are living in, alongside defeating those actively working to undermine democracy and preventing a climate catastrophe. It is our duty to shape societies whose prosperity and longevity are based on supporting rather than harming people’s mental and physical health.”
President Karis says the COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call which revealed the ways in which society has let people down. “One is the overall lack of awareness of mental health problems and of a suitable response to them,” he noted. “The cost and burden of such problems can no longer be ignored. The time for words has passed: we must act. We must develop a coordinated approach to mental health problems at the local, regional and global levels.”
The head of state remarked that mental health is not solely a health-related issue. “It has as much to do with education, security and economics as it does with health itself,” he said. “All state agencies share responsibility for dealing with mental health problems. Every decision that is made must take into account its impact on people’s well-being. In Estonia, a committee of 15 ministers contribute to that sort of preventive action every month. Boosting people’s resilience to both internal and external jolts forms part of a country’s psychological defence.”
President Karis said that prevention must be the priority so that young people grow up knowing how to cope with their feelings, how to recognise potential mental health issues and how to look after themselves. “We should all be able to recognise those in need and to provide them with mental ‘first aid’,” he remarked. “As countries we have to create strong, lasting systems of professional help. We must focus on youth mental health, because problems which go unnoticed at a young age only grow over time.”
The head of state added that he has visited a lot of schools and taken part in a lot of meetings with young people in his time in office. “Mental health is an issue that they constantly raise,” he said. “Teachers are worried, as well as overburdened, while the youngsters themselves are anxious. Mental health specialists admit that there are not enough resources to support all those in need.”
Another urgent problem raised by President Karis in his address was the need for psychological assistance for Ukrainian refugees.