By R. Gordon R. McInally, 2023-24 Rotary International President
World Mental Health Day is 10 October 2023, as organized by the World Federation for Mental Health and endorsed by the World Health Organization. The global designation strives to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health.
It’s also a great opportunity for Rotary members to think about ways that they can incorporate mental health service into their projects. I will be hosting a Social Media Live event – broadcast on Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube — on 10 October to discuss ways that members and clubs can become more engaged in this effort, and will be joined by Dr. Pallavi Gowda, a primary care physician in Rockville, MD and member of the Rotary Action Group for Mental Health Initiatives.
I hope you will join us in this program, and if you would like to learn more about Dr. Gowda’s work, please read her Service in Action blog this month on the importance of primary care physicians in the global mental health network.
As you know, I have placed a focus on mental health issues this Rotary year, and the Rotary Action Group for Mental Health Initiatives has set three goals for us to make progress in this effort: raise awareness of mental health issues worldwide, fight the stigma attached to discussing mental health, and find ways to expand access to care for the people we serve worldwide.
The importance of raising awareness should not be underestimated and is a great way for any Rotary or Rotaract club to get started. The world is facing numerous mental health challenges today and Rotary members can achieve a great deal just by placing more attention on them.
A great example is the Rotary Club of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Earlier this year, the Rotaract Club of Tortola invited a young woman to speak about the unique challenges she faced in regards to her pregnancy and mental health. This inspired the Rotary club to also invite her to speak – and in turn, that led the Rotary and Rotaract clubs to collaborate on an awareness project to paint their town green on 4 May, in conjunction with World Maternal Mental Health Day.
Such awareness efforts not only bring attention to an important issue – they also place a greater focus on Rotary’s areas of focus, because these campaigns connect us with people who share a commitment to progress on a specific issue and who might not know, in the case of this postpartum mental health campaign, that Rotary is deeply involved in child and maternal health issues worldwide. You could even connect your awareness campaigns to fundraising efforts for The Rotary Foundation.
Fighting the stigma associated with discussing mental health is important as well – and is something you can do in your own clubs by inviting mental health professionals and advocates to your meetings and perhaps inviting them to speak. Simply creating an environment where people are more comfortable talking about mental health sets a good example for your community – and provides a safe space for helping one another form the kinds of connections that strengthen our own mental health.
And finally, it’s important that we focus on ways to expand access to care worldwide. I’ve heard it said that we can’t even refer to the global mental health system being inadequate, because that system has never been created. Rotary can play an important part in building that system, one project at a time. It’s become a regular occurrence for me to hear about exciting new club, district and global grant projects in the mental health space.
It’s vital that we keep at this over the long term, because it’s not enough to just encourage people to seek out mental health support, we need to ensure that the people we serve can get the help they need.
On this World Mental Health Day, I want to thank you for showing so much enthusiasm for this effort. Keep sending your project stories and thoughts about the initiative to firstname.lastname@example.org and share your service experiences on Rotary Showcase.