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Mental health relates to our emotions and thinking, expressed through our behaviour and hence sometimes referred to as ‘behavioural science.’ A person’s thoughts or feelings are not apparent the same way we can see physical symptoms. However, we can observe and see demonstrations of those thoughts and feelings in the form of behaviours.
Firstly, evidence points out how mental health is strongly linked to our general well-being and physical health. When a person suffers from physical health problems or diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, or even a broken leg, there are apparent physical symptoms to indicate the need for treatment and care. The broken leg or the high blood pressure are all things that can be measured. We can observe and design interventions to address these issues. Mental health issues are more challenging to understand and measure and subsequently even harder to treat effectively.
Secondly, our well-being is influenced and affected by events unfolding around us. We might not suffer physically from witnessing an incident or traumatic event, but emotional suffering and damage may not be visible underneath the surface. These hidden scars are why it is vital to explore and understand more about our mental health. It is essential to recognise that everything that is happening around us can impact our mental health and emotional well-being. Hence why we need to understand its long-term effects.
For those living in an environment of constant fear, conflict, perpetual wars, and violence, these factors’ effect on mental health is immeasurable. As human beings, we are resilient and can deal with a lot of adversity. We manage, evolve, and cope with so much trauma. Yet, experience and research indicate that trauma that happens earlier in life can have serious consequences, carried into the future for years. In the immediate period after a traumatic event, it is possible to recognise signs of mental health disturbances which can continue to develop later in life if left untreated. Even if there are no immediate signs of mental health issues following a trauma, this doesn’t mean that it will not manifest later in life. Early damaging experiences can affect a person, particularly children, personality, development, and how they view the world around them. It is not easy to measure and assess this, but it can have severe consequences at the individuals, family, and society level.
A ‘normal’ upbringing constitutes being bought up in a safe and positive family environment for most of us. To have the experiences of growing up surrounded by family who can provide basic physical and emotional needs, having emotions recognised and validated is crucial for the development of healthy individuals. Unfortunately, most vulnerable people, such as orphaned children and widows, cannot meet these basic needs. It is the responsibility of all of us to change that for the better. Organisations such as Al-Ayn must continue to provide some normality to those disadvantaged in our society. There is an obligation on society to aid and assist those who cannot help themselves.
It is easier to push aside a problem rather than deal with it. One of the reasons mental health is so difficult to tackle is because we cannot see it. It is difficult to quantify and measure the amount of mental distress that someone is going through primarily due to the stigma and taboo surrounding it; it’s entirely of misconceptions and misunderstandings.
How do you deal with it? How do you change society in a way that mental health becomes at the forefront of our priorities?
Such complex issues usually come in many difficulties, which all need to be addressed. Support from family and friends is crucial, but those families need to be educated and supported to deal with mental health issues. Unfortunately, those who are most vulnerable may not have access to such support. Indeed, even if this support exists, it may not be enough to address such a complex issue as mental health. This is where professions, who have more skills and experiences with these problems, come in.
Orphaned children must have a healthy upbringing; they need to have a safe space and time to express themselves and receive positive feedback, reinforcing their learning. It is essential to give them a space to talk about their thoughts and regulate their emotions at that basic level. It is necessary for every child but even more essential in orphaned children who have been through a traumatic experience such as war or losing a loved one. There is a vast amount of emotional turmoil that they go through which they cannot even begin to understand. All these thoughts and negative energy within their minds can build up over time and manifest in detrimental ways that they are not even aware of.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory of psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs. The pyramid’s foundation shows the physiological conditions, such as air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing, and reproduction. All of these keep us alive. The next tier displays safety needs, including personal security, employment, resources, health, and property. These allow us to distinguish ourselves from others and protect ourselves, bringing us to the third tier, love and belonging. This tier relates to friendships, intimacy, family, and our sense of connection. These allow our mental health and well-being to be nurtured. The only way we can reach this tier is by social interactions and allowing ourselves to validate our feelings and emotions by interacting with other people.
These last two tiers are considered as fulfilling the potential of a person. This is an essential part of the development and focuses on achieving a role in society, which comes through education and employment. Therefore, it is crucial to provide education and jobs, and basic physical and emotional needs to a disadvantaged group of children. This is not just important for their development but also to make sure they don’t end up a burden on society when they grow up, because of no fault of their own. Through Iraq’s Luminous Stars Centres, Al-Ayn is providing that for those who need it most. A chance for young, orphaned youth to develop their confidence and learn skills to build themselves a successful business or move into employment. To feel that they have something of value to contribute to society and, through this, a sense of pride and self-worth.
We need to support this kind of work in any way that we can and show orphaned children and their families that society cares about them and feel their pain. They are not forgotten.
Prof Mohammed Al-Uzri