The Role of Mental Health In Sustainability
How are you, really? This question requires us to truly reflect on our mental health. Some of you may think, “I’m not doing too good – I’m anxious, depressed, or stressed.” Or you may be feeling happy, productive, and stress-free. But why am I even asking in the first place? Well, the state of your mental health is key to our sustainability efforts.
When your mental health is in a good place, you’re happier and more productive at work and home. When you’re happier, and in a good place mentally, you tend to take better care of yourself and others around you. This creates a ripple effect that helps us all feel better about ourselves and each other—and ultimately leads to more sustainable habits overall.
But what happens when your mental health is not in a good place? We typically have a hard time taking care of ourselves. We turn inward and don’t want to reach out to our community. We have other things to worry about than being sustainable, which can lead to even more shame or guilt about not taking the sustainable high road while halting global progress.
In this episode, we talk about the role of mental health in sustainability and how we can improve our mental health for the collective sustainability effort.
What is mental health?!
The World Health Organization defines Mental health in this way:
“Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape our world. Mental health is a basic human right. And it is crucial to personal, community and socio-economic development.”
They point out that “there can be no health or sustainable development without mental health.”
How does mental health tie into sustainability?
Suppose you’re not in the right headspace to live the best life you can – or reach your potential. In that case, it affects your ability to participate in society and the overall sustainability goals we must work together to achieve collectively.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the “global blueprint for dignity, peace, and prosperity for people and the planet, now and in the future.” It’s how we can achieve a sustainable world, which is why they are so important.
Work by Dybdahl and Lien connects the dots between the SDGs and how mental health is an underlying critical factor in the success of each goal.
Eradicate poverty, hunger, and poor sanitation
Mental health needs to be improved to eradicate poverty, hunger, and poor sanitation (goals 1, 2, and 6). Poverty directly affects mental health and can create lasting generational effects both individually and as a society. “Depression alone has been estimated to affect 350 million persons, being the single largest contributor to years lived with disability.”
According to a 2020 study in the US, “An estimated 14.8 million U.S. adults aged 18 or older had at least one major depressive episode with severe impairment in the past year. This number represented 6.0% of all U.S. adults.”
That number has risen since the pandemic, and many go unreported and untreated. This affects our ability to carry out tasks in our daily lives and lends itself to many other problems that can continue the cycle – like an inability to work, addiction, physical illnesses, and more. This widespread, mostly untreated mental health crisis creates more human suffering and a significant economic burden.
Forbes reports, “The economic burden of mental illness for most countries is 4% of GDP, yet their investment in finding better diagnostics and treatments can be less than .5% of GDP.”
We could be spending less money to address mental health while making a bigger impact not only on the quality of our lives, but the world.
Good Health + Education
Good health and education (goals 3 and 4) aren’t possible without good mental health and mental health support.
Promoting equality, peace, and justice
Promoting equality, peace, and justice (Goals 5, 10 and 16) is impossible without addressing mental health concerns. “Humanitarian crises, such as war, are associated with heightened prevalence of mental disorders and distress.” Untreated mental illnesses can also lead to violence and war – the opposite of equality, peace, and justice. And there is so much shame and stigma surrounding people with mental illnesses and what that means if you do have one – creating inequality and animosity.
The thing is that mental health is a fundamental human right, and mental illness reaches all classes, all genders, and all races. It touches everyone – and in that way, we are all equal.
Economic prosperity, sustainable communities, and jobs
Economic prosperity, sustainable communities, and jobs (Goals 8, 9 and 11) also require stable mental health. As I mentioned, poor mental health affects our economy through the money we spend on the fallout of symptoms instead of solutions and our ability to work and thrive.
To have innovative solutions that benefit people, profit, and the planet. To have sustainable communities, we need to think clearly, creatively, and work together. This can’t be done if the overall mental health of our world is not living up to its full human potential.
Protecting the planet and natural resources
Any finally, Dybdahl and Lien point out that in regards to protecting the planet and natural resources (Goals 7, 12, 13, 14 & 15), “natural resources and the survival of the planet impact people’s health, and people’s health will have consequences for their ability to manage the changes necessary for a more sustainable environment. Strengthening people’s and communities’ resilience, including their mental health, is an important step towards disaster risk reduction.”
This is especially true in the emergence of eco-anxiety in response to climate change, how that has affected our mental health, and how that, in turn, affects our ability to take action.
How can you help the mental health of the planet?
So if the state of our mental health affects so many factors of our lives and the outcomes of world sustainability – how can we help improve it? The answer is interdisciplinary – multifaceted. But there are a few things you can do.
- First and foremost, be aware of your mental health. This isn’t just a matter of feeling good or bad but also involves recognizing your limitations and vulnerabilities. If you’re struggling – seek help. If you’re not sure if you’re struggling – take a look inward and see what you find. Prioritize finding support in some way or another so you can be happier and live a full life – something that will overflow into every aspect of your life and allow you the energy and mental clarity needed to choose a sustainable lifestyle each day.
- Be aware of the mental health of others. Whether or not you’re dealing with a mental illness, we must pay attention to our community and try to lift them up when we can. Some people may be dealing with difficult emotions or thoughts without realizing it, which can impact their lives in ways they don’t understand until later on. You could help by talking about these issues with them, so they know where their feelings come from, perhaps even connecting them with resources like support groups or therapists who specialize in helping people cope with specific stressors – even those related to climate change. If we feel like we are in this together and that someone cares – it can improve our own mental health.
- Talk about mental health openly and without shame! One way we can remove the stigma around mental health and improve our quality of life is by being open about what’s happening inside our heads and seeking help if necessary! Talking about it will also allow us to make plans and potentially share the heavy load we’re carrying so that everyone can benefit.
- Advocate for mental health support. Imagine the benefits we would see if we advocated for including mental health support in schools, work, and public health policies. Then we can work towards scaling up interventions and services across community-based, general health, and specialist settings so that all can receive the mental health care they deserve.
Sustainability is a collective effort.
Sustainability is a collective effort. It requires a global perspective and the ability to work together towards goals. Mental health requires the same kind of approach. Working together toward the common goal of improving your mental well-being and the well-being of others can make you feel happier and better equipped to tackle problems on behalf of your community.
Something to grow on
For this week’s something to grow on, I want to leave you with the fact that there will be some good mental health days and some bad. Both are okay. The point is to find help, share, connect, and support others on a deeper level and to heal – collectively. You are not alone.
I’ll end with a quote by Queen Elizabeth II –
“When life seems hard, the courageous do not sit down and accept defeat; instead, they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future.”
So I ask you to be courageous – and keep fighting for a better future.
Until next time, thanks for joining me, neighbor.
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