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Busting myths about mental health with Head Matters

23.11.2018

According to the World Happiness Report, mental health issues are the most significant factor to undermine people’s opportunities for having a fulfilling life in the Western world. It is estimated that at any time, there are 70 000 depressed people in Estonia. Peaasi (Head Matters) is working to prevent mental health issues. For this, they use their web portal, offer training and raise awareness, as well as counsel the people in need.

Anna-Kaisa Oidermaa is a clinical psychologist and a family therapist. Ten years ago, she worked in the Psychiatry Clinic of the North Estonia Medical Centre and noticed that there is a lack of information about mental health in Estonian. “We wanted the information to be easy to read, evidence based and avoid shaming people. Ere, a colleague of mine, and I made the first website for mental health, albeit a very simple one, and we worked on it as volunteers, parallel with having a full time job.”

Head Matters summer gathering

Other colleagues also supported their initiative and the counselling could begin. Five years ago, they landed a major project with Norwegian funding, which helped them to grow their team. Now, Anna-Kaisa is the executive director of Peaasi and the team additionally includes 25 part time employees and volunteers.

An important, yet invisible issue

Anna-Kaisa says that over a person’s lifetime, mental health issues can have an impact on up to 40% of all people. “Three quarters of all mental health issues start before turning 24. In itself, this is not a big deal – it is entirely possible to live and even be happy with various disorders. In many cases, the affected person can heal and recover. In our country, however, it can pose great difficulties, since the society tends to shame people with mental health issues and propagates myths and falsehoods. When people are afraid of doing something about the problem, they keep postponing looking for solutions and the problems only get worse. In the end, it is much more difficult to get up and dig yourself out of that hole,” she explains.

Anna-Kaisa remarks that although physical separation is no longer deemed acceptable, people with different behaviours still tend to be isolated, though in more subtle ways. “Generally, people who deviate from the average tend to be pushed away, for example, they could be left out from group activities. It is more difficult to find a job, keep the job or find friends, potentially only because of the biases towards the diagnosis, even though those biases are unfounded,” she says.

In an ideal world, all people could use some mental health hygiene habits and would be more aware of how to maintain emotional wellbeing, focus and relationships. Illnesses rooted in mental health could be a part of an ordinary life in the society – just like physical illnesses, which simply need to be taken care of.

Anna-Kaisa has a clear vision of the situation that they are working for: “If a person is in crisis or is not feeling well, they would know which steps they could take. Friends, classmates, teachers and colleagues could also behave in an appropriate way and be there for the person in need.”

Why this story matters?

Ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being at all ages is essential to sustainable development. Significant strides have been made in increasing life expectancy and reducing some of the common killers associated with child and maternal mortality, but working towards achieving the target of less than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030 would require improvements in skilled delivery care.

If we look at World Happiness Index 2017, in richer countries the within-country differences are not mainly explained by income inequality, but by differences in mental health, physical health and personal relationships: the biggest single source of misery is mental illness. Income differences matter more in poorer countries, but even their mental illness is a major source of misery.

The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. 

Read more about SDG 3 – Good health and well-being

This publication has been produced with the financial support from the Nordic Council of Ministers. The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of the coordinators of this project and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

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Estonian Roundtable for Development Cooperation (AKÜ) is an independent not-for-profit coalition of non-governmental organisations that work in the field of development cooperation, global citizenship education or sustainable development.

AKÜ is a strategic partner for Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a consultant the state in field of development cooperation, global citizenship education or sustainable development.

AKÜ also provides workshops and consultancy for private sector companies as well as for wider public on sustainable development goals and global issues. 

The highest decision-making body is the General Assmebly.  AKÜ’s legal representative is the Board, which is also responsible for managing the organisation’s staff. 

MTÜ Arengukoostöö Ümarlaud (AKÜ)

Estonian Roundtable for Development Cooperation

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Agne Kuimet – member of management board, agne@terveilm.ee