What is mental health? According to the draft Mental Health Act 2016, it is the “state of mind when an individual can realise his/her own potential; can cope with typical societal pressure and maintain life; engage himself/herself in productive work; and can contribute for the well-being of other population.”
Mental health-related issues constitute a major public health concern around the globe, with a higher burden on low and middle-income countries like Bangladesh. The WHO reported that the deteriorating mental health condition in the workplace has significant economic impacts. The estimated cost of lost productivity in the global economy is $1 trillion per year due to depression and anxiety.
Bangladesh is fortunate in that regard, with 33% of our population being comprised of the adolescent and young-adults -- the future generation will play key roles in economic growth.
However, adolescence (10-19 years of age) is the most critical stage of a human being as it is a transitional phase from childhood to adulthood, a dynamic period of cognitive and physical development that brings opportunity, but also angst and turbulence.
Despite the possibility of full opportunity, various mental disorders stemming from habits such as substance use, self-harm, and suicidal tendencies emerge during adolescence due to frustration, depression, and anxiety.
This is a vulnerable stage for human beings as the mental, physical, and emotional changes can affect on’e overall behaviour. Therefore, ensuring stable mental health condition for adolescents should be a prime concern for all of us.
The present government is very keen on providing adequate service for adolescents, who make up one-fifth of the total population of Bangladesh.
The National Strategy for Adolescent Health (NSAH) 2017-2030, followed by the Adolescent Reproductive Health Strategy 2006-2016 are being implemented, to that end.
The new strategy is a comprehensive one, that attempts to ensure complete physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of adolescents.
Unless the problems of adolescents are properly addressed, a future with a dysfunctional society is inevitable
Are we ready?
Numerous examples demonstrate the worrisome condition in Bangladesh. The alarming rate of yaba and use of other narcotic substances among adolescents, dependency on electronic devices, and stress from school and family can all lead to mental breakdowns.
The draft is primarily aimed at curative interventions, not preventive actions. We should not forget that prevention is always better than cure. But we really don’t have much choice when even curative medical services in Bangladesh are absent both at the primary and secondary health care levels.
A research paper prepared by Mohammad Didar Hossain in 2014 revealed that mental health services are absent from primary care services in Bangladesh.
The scenario is that only 0.5% of the total health budget is allocated to mental health, and 67% of it is spent on long-term patients in mental hospitals. Therefore, we need initiatives for preventive measures and to extend mental health care services at the upazilla and district levels, along with appropriate referral services. Engagement of family members and school teachers in sorting out adolescent members’ mental health is a must as well.
To provide adolescents healthy mental states is not a task to be accomplished single-handedly by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare -- inter-ministerial collaboration is necessary. Apart from the Health Ministry, other agencies should also be included for providing complete mental health services.
The responsibility of upholding the Mental Health Act 2016 goes to the Ministry of Law, but it is up to the Ministry of Health to ensure the mental well-being of adolescents. Simultaneously, safety and protection of adolescents from harassment and bullying need to be ensured and monitored by the MoSW as well as MoWCA.
Recruitment of student counselors in schools under the NSAH is instrumental, as well. There is a critical gap in providing emotional or psychological support to students, even at the university level. Even though student counselors are available in many private universities, their role remains confined to academic or administrative spheres.
In light of the facts and figures shown above, it must be brought to light that, unless the problems of adolescents are properly addressed, a future with a dysfunctional society is inevitable. Collaboration and coordination among development partners and other stakeholders such as teachers and guardians can help open congenial spaces for the adolescents.
And, in doing so, can pave the way for them to become healthy, proactive, and productive population of Bangladesh.
Tahmina Sultana is Deputy Director (Research) of Bangladesh Institute for Governance and Management.