TALLINN – Estonian President Alar Karis stressed in a video greeting at the opening of the meeting of the Mental Health Coalition of the World Health Organization (WHO) that we can no longer ignore the extent and the cost of the mental health burden.
"We have an important task ahead of us. This may be the most important mission of our century, next only to defeating anti-democratic aggressors and averting the climate catastrophe. We have the duty of building societies whose prosperity and resilience relies on supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of people, instead of damaging them," the head of state said.
According to Karis, the COVID-19 pandemic has really been the wake-up call that made us notice where the societies are failing our people.
"Our awareness of and response to mental health issues has been one of them. Today, we can no longer ignore the extent and the cost of the mental health burden. This coalition is a good example of the valuable initiatives have been launched in response to the challenge. We are moving from debate to actions. Now, let us keep the momentum and design a coordinated response to mental health issues -- on a local, regional and global level," the president said.
"Just yesterday, we had the first meeting of the governmental committee on prevention. Importantly, six Cabinet ministers out of 15 are part of this panel that discusses interventions in many critical areas including mental health. Six ministers. This indicates that for us, mental health is not just a health issue. It is an education issue, a security issue, an economic issue. Every unit of the state shares the responsibility of being part of the response to mental health challenges. And we aim that every decision is made considering its impacts on the wellbeing of people," Karis said.
"Especially in crisis situations, securing and supporting mental health and psycho-social wellbeing needs to be a guiding principle. It is part of the psychological defense of the country, making it more resistant to external and internal disruptions," he added.
"Prevention is the key. It is essential that young people today grow up knowing how to manage their feelings, recognize potential mental health problems and act to take care of themselves. We all need to be able to notice people in need of help and provide them with 'mental health first aid'. As countries, we all also need to build strong and sustainable systems of professional help," Karis said.
"I have focused today on the mental health of young people because unnoticed and untreated problems during this age will only grow in their future life," he added. "During my time in office, I have visited many schools and had numerous meetings with young people. And no matter where we start our conversation, we end up discussing mental health. I have heard those stories from principals, teachers and young people themselves. Everywhere, teachers are worried and overwhelmed, young people feel anxious, and mental health specialists admit the lack of capacity to support those who need help," the president said.
As an urgent problem, the Estonian head of state also highlighted the need for psychological help for Ukrainian refugees.