Our World

Global Mental Health Concerns

Tom Davis – South Africa

There is a serious blind spot when it comes to the truth about mental health in many areas of activity in the world, probably due to the stigma attached to mental illness.

From a holistic or positive psychological viewpoint, mental health is seen as the general absence of a mental disorder, although recent evidence suggests that mental health is more than the mere absence of a mental disorder or illness. Put simply, mental health refers to the health of a person’s mind. Therefore the impact of traumas in childhood during education and in social, cultural and physical situations and the deleterious effects of aging can affect mental health. Our ability to cope with or adapt to a range of daily demands and how we react to or express ourselves emotionally, especially in stressful and traumatic circumstances, determines our level of mental health. In many spheres of human life people, including those in leadership positions and presidents of countries suffer from serious mental illnesses. This negatively affects the people around them, the organization or country. Surely then, this should be a serious area of study for Theosophists.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a worthwhile contribution to his or her community".

Recently the term “Global Mental Health” emerged as a field of study and research that places a priority on improving mental health worldwide, so global guidelines regarding testing and evaluation of individuals should follow eventually. How this will be implemented will be interesting as cultural differences and various professional approaches and opinions affect the definitions of mental disorders.

The current global recession has affected many physically, emotionally and mentally. This has led to an increase in mental illness and suicides in all age groups from youths to the aged. Although there have been increased levels of suicides during the current global recession, even during boom times, the levels of mental illness was a cause for concern. The WHO statistics state that global suicide rates increased 60% over 45 years from 1959 to 2004. On average, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world.

In the past socially acceptable drugs (alkaloids) in cigarettes, coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, colas and mild pain killers, plus alcohol were used by millions to cope with levels of stress. It eventually became known that these have a deleterious long term effect on the body and are especially dangerous when use is excessive. Alkaloid stimulants, coffee, tea, cola and large amounts of sugar (sucrose) in soft drinks usually increases the heart rate and tricks the body into releasing the energy that it holds in reserve. In addition refined sugar or sucrose leaches calcium from teeth and bones.

As the pace of life increased, so did the consumption of these stimulants and with it, not surprisingly, increasing numbers of people suffering from depression, burnout, yuppie flue etc. However, a much larger range of harmful but socially acceptable drugs have gradually been introduced in the form of stimulants, suppressants, anti-depressants, sedatives, tranquilizers and pain relief pills. These are attractively packaged and marketed to a public looking for relief from the effect of stress. These can be more harmful long term, as many are habit forming and can also lead to debilitating physical and mental health.

In addition to these, there are many very serious illegal drugs like enhanced marijuana, mandrax, crystal meths, cocaine, heroin and even more dangerous drug cocktails. Many take these drugs as a form of euphoric escape from the real world and end up losing their lives prematurely.

Mental illness does not only arise from stress and drugs, it can be a hereditary illness or one caused by serious accident or induced as a result of serious trauma.

The effect of advancing years and deterioration of the physical body and mind can affect memory, and an inability to deal effectively with situations that were previously not an issue.

Turning from causes to actual mental illness; normally most people suffer from some form of mild neurosis. But there is a progressive deterioration in mental health as people regress emotionally and psychologically as a result of an inability to cope with or face up to difficult situations or the modern pace of life or rat race. This manifests in several ways as anxiety, depression, possible addiction and deteriorating stages leading to burn out. If progressive drug addiction occurs, serious mental illnesses or psychoses can develop which can be difficult to treat. These days powerful drugs with serious side effects are used in treatment of these advanced mental illnesses.  

Psychological profiling and regular mental health checkups are heavily neglected  in industry, commerce, finance, education, religious organizations and most other fields except for a country’s intelligence operatives and within special forces who carry out covert operations.

Psychological profiling and strictly enforced rules concerning priests in the Roman Catholic Church could have avoided the stigma associated with the scandal of pedophile priests.

There are so many examples of people in highly responsible positions who terrorize their subordinates or staff, because they can be delusional, psychotic, paranoid, bipolar schizophrenic or suffer from other forms of mental illness, which in turn creates undue stress in others and can at times cause mental illness in others. There are many case histories of people who have committed serious crimes and only after this, have been ordered by a court to undergo psychiatric evaluation.

Although many organizations carry out regular physical examinations, most do not conduct regular mental health sessions to check the effect of the stresses of the job and maybe the effect of a changed personal life situation on the individual, such as a divorce.

Those engaged in personnel and mental health fields should be campaigning for formal and professionally authorized regular testing or screening procedures especially for those in leadership and management roles to protect reasonably normal people and the organization from the traumatic vicissitudes of seriously mentally ill persons in responsible positions. This should become a mandatory procedure written into the rules, laws and constitutions of organizations and countries.


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