8 October 2004
The focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day, the co-occurrence of mental and physical illness, reflects the reality of people's experience.
Although we tend to think of diseases in isolation, people are often affected by multiple ailments. For many, suffering mental and physical illness at the same time is the rule. It is particularly harmful for some populations, such as the elderly and the poor, as diseases tend to accumulate and get worse with age, and with unfavourable living conditions. The global explosion of HIV/AIDS, the resurgence of old killers like tuberculosis, and the appearance of new infections have underlined the relationship between physical illness on one hand, and depression on the other. Further complications ensue because a mental disorder in someone affected by a life-threatening physical disease not only increases the level of their suffering; it also makes them less likely to keep to a treatment regimen.
Clearly, when treating illness, we must do better in considering the individual as a whole, rather than piecemeal. This requires those involved in health care -- mental and physical -- to work together, bringing their individual strengths and responsibilities into a collaborative effort. On this World Mental Health Day, let us pledge to treat people, not parts of people.