By David David

The World Health Organization, WHO estimates that over 20% of the population will suffer from mental disorders like schizophrenia, depression, dementia, bipolar and anxiety in their lifetime. That means mental disorders will affect a billion people worldwide. These are so common that the World Bank predicts that by 2030, mental disorders will be the leading cause of disability in many groups. If nothing is done to improve their care, it could cost our society trillions of dollars.

Despite growing recognition of the burden associated with mental illnesses, they are yet to be afforded the same policy or program priority as comparably disabling physical conditions.

Negative societal responses to people with mental illnesses may be the single greatest barrier to the development of mental health programs worldwide. These pernicious effects have been recognized as a worthy target for social action by the Global Youth Mental Health Awareness, GYMHA.

So given their prevalence, most people should know someone with a mental illness. The fact that many of us think that we don’t reflect three inconvenient truths: that we don’t fully understand what mental disorders are, that we are reluctant to acknowledge them, and that mentally ill people are stigmatized.

To understand this, let’s try a thought exercise. Imagine you were invited to a party celebrating your boss’s 50th birthday, and you were selected to make the toast. On the day of the event, you developed a medical problem and had to cancel. Would you prefer to say that you couldn’t go because of a kidney stone or because you were feeling depressed and suicidal? Would you rather give the excuse that you threw out your back or that you had a panic attack? Would you rather explain that you were having a migraine or were strung out on prescription pain medication? If you prefer the former reasons rather than the latter, you are affected by stigma.

If we thought of a mental illness like heart disease, then we would view symptoms of depression like chest pain, anxiety-like shortness of breath, and psychosis-like arrhythmia. Just as the latter symptoms come from the heart, the former emanate from the brain.

But the brain is infinitely more complex than the heart or any other organ in the human body. The heart is basically a pump made up of 2 billion muscle cells, 4 chambers and a dozen blood vessels. The brain, on the other hand, is a 3 lb corrugated mass of tissue comprised of 100 billion neurons, which have more than 30 trillion connections, intricately organized into a myriad of neural circuits that simultaneously orchestrates functions like temperature, breathing, and body movements, while at the same time forms your personality and makes you the person you are. The brain also gives rise to consciousness and creativity and houses the spirit. No wonder it has taken scientists so long to begin to understand the brain and its relationship to mental illness; and they’ve only just scratched the surface.

And while they are still learning about the causes of mental disorders, effective treatments already exist that have helped millions of people. Often, these do not just result in the relief of a person’s symptoms but the utter transformation of their lives.

Mental disorders can be effectively treated. It is ironic that throughout history the greatest barriers to helping people with mental illness were the lack of scientific knowledge and effective treatments. In the 21st century, the greatest barriers are stigma, lack of awareness and access to mental health care. That is why GYMHA was established to provide knowledge and create awareness of mental health issues.

To increase your knowledge of mental health issues, Global Youth Mental Health Awareness warmly welcomes you to the amazing GYMHA family. You can join GYMHA as a volunteer; attend health fairs, resource fairs, summits and more.

Talk to someone about this article and ask them to share it with someone else. Join GYMHA to start a domino effect for awareness of mental health. Don’t be scared to talk about it. You can get more information about the resources and services offered in GYMHA -at