Awareness of the importance of mental welfare has been increasingly evident not only in Gibraltar, but across much of the western world. A subject historically relegated to dark corners and discussed in hushed tones; the concerted efforts of various groups around Gibraltar have pushed the matter to the forefront of the collective conscience, mirroring a wide spread international trend.
The message that mental health issues affect the majority of people’s lives, directly or indirectly, and that these issues must be open to discussion, has permeated the press, social media and the daily lives of an increasing number of people. United by the rallying cry that, ‘it’s okay not to be okay’, signs of positive change and the evolution of the general attitude towards mental welfare have been encouraging – but recent events in Gibraltar must, yet again, make us stop and question whether we are doing enough as a society.
Mental health issues at the centre of suicide cases are the subject of a worrying trend in recent years and part of a wider problem on the rock. Self-harm amongst young people is an issue causing serious concern, and for all it helps to be able to discuss these matters with family and friends, professional help and intervention is every bit as important as it is in the case of physical injury or ailments.
To once again draw a parallel which must continue to be emphasised, we shouldn’t ignore psychological issues any more than we should ignore broken bones in the human body, and by the same measure, most of us are not any more equipped to deal with serious issues of mental health than we are to deal with serious issues of physical health.
To mark this year’s Mental Health Day (October 10th), a silent walk was arranged in order to highlight the shortcomings of the current system. Keen to impress that this was a social, not political issue, and the collective responsibility of all administrations to date, the Gibraltar Mental Welfare Society used this day to make the statement that mental health urgently requires significant investment.
The walk started at the Piazza and made its way to No.6, where Minister John Cortes, standing in for the Chief Minister, received a written copy of the Society’s suggestions. Minister Cortes then extended an invitation to the Society’s representatives, Conchita Triay and Mark Montovio, to discuss their concerns, which was gladly accepted.
This year’s theme was ‘Mental Health in Young People in a Changing World’. For this reason the GMHS focused on specific services that would benefit young people: counsellors in schools, as well as a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service – which many have been pushing for in Gibraltar for years.
A government announcement earlier in the week had therefore been warmly received, with a new GHA Child and Adolescent Psychology Service set to commence in January 2019. By specifically catering to young people, the hope is that mental health issues will be addressed at an early enough stage that they can be more effectively managed, and the GMHS welcomed the move as a very positive step in the right direction. It is their hope that it will be followed by the addition of counsellors within the education system so as to provide even more immediate help at schools to children in less acute situations.
While all progress should be celebrated, it’s important that we never become desensitised to the tragedy of those we fail to save, to those that slip through cracks in the system, to those we look back on who cause us to wonder if enough was done. A lot of work has gone in to the cause, but much more remains ahead; it is only through a united front that progress will continue to be made and pulling together in a community like Gibraltar to work towards common goals is well within our capabilities.