Mental wellbeing as a measure of social and economic development

Mental health

Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.

Mental health is a critical component of individual, family, community and national wellbeing and prosperity.

The health of a nation, particularly the psychological and mental wellbeing has a great bearing on social and economic growth. Some have even said that gross national happiness may be a better measure of a community’s and a nation’s progress than gross domestic product.

People who are mentally well and thriving are more productive and can contribute more effectively to their families, communities and ultimately the nation.

People with even moderate mental distress have been shown to have significantly reduced productivity and ultimately this can have an economic cost to families, organisations and the nation.

Can mental wellbeing be measured?

The Kingdom of Bhutan has been using the Gross Happiness Index as a measure of physical and psychological wellbeing of its population as a main measure of development since the 1970s.

Other measures that have since been developed include the OECD Better Life Index and the Social Progress Index. These are examples of how mental wellbeing could be measured objectively and shows how mental health and wellbeing can influence development of a community and a nation.

Factors related to mental wellbeing that have been used as indicators for community and societal wellbeing include:

  • A sense of satisfaction with life: having a sense of fulfilment with life, the ability to earn a decent living and care for one’s family has been shown to be a key part of mental wellbeing that can affect one’s productivity and can be a key indicator of how we are doing mentally as a society
  • Work-life balance: there needs to be a balance between our work and our home or family life for us to remain productive and effective. Consistent friction between the demands of home life and the demands of work can cause a lot of stress. Many times we are forced to choose work priorities over family priorities and this can strain family relationships and erode the social support network we have in friends and family. The ability to balance life and work could be a key indicator for how well our societies are functioning
  • Emotional awareness and ability to manage one’s emotions: emotional awareness helps us to recognise positive emotions and appreciate them and to identify difficult emotions and find healthy ways of dealing with them. Emotional awareness is a key part of mental health and wellbeing and could be a key indicator of how well an organization or community is doing psychologically.
  • Spirituality: A sense of purpose for one’s life and hope for oneself is also a key part of mental wellbeing that can affect our productivity and ability to contribute meaningfully in our families and communities. Hopelessness can result in depression and can be a risk factor for substance use problems.
  • How we make use of our time: with the current strong influence of social media and other time demanding activities, it is now vitally important that we guard our time. Spending time doing activities that enrich the mind and body is key to maintaining mental wellbeing and to being productive.
  • Quality of sleep: Sleep is a key factor to being a productive human being. An adult of working age should sleep for at least 7 to 8 hours a night and children for at least 9 to 10 hours. Sleep deprivation is a major risk factor for physical and mental ill health and could be a key indicator in mental wellbeing of a community.
  • Ability to learn and acquire knowledge, opportunities for growth: To be able to grow and progress in life is a key part of mental wellbeing and can affect one’s ability to contribute to the greater community. When we feel stagnant we can eventually become unproductive
  • Connection with the family and the community: The strength of a nation is in its smallest unit which is the family. Families and communities provide essential social support and healthy families help create healthy individuals who can be productive members of society.

Measuring community mental wellbeing

We need to consider measuring our success as families, organizations, communities and as a nation beyond GDP and other financial measures and consider the economics of wellbeing where the wellbeing of our family members, our organizations employees and community members is the driver for greater development and prosperity. It means putting people and their wellbeing first.

  • As families, we must start to be aware of emotional health in our spouses, children and other family members. We may not go as far as conducting surveys but we can discuss and openly talk about our mental wellbeing as well as to support each other better. The family is often the main social support we all have and greater emotional awareness at this level can make a great difference in how we function in other roles. The family can also be the setting where mental health challenges are recognised early and appropriate care can then be sought out.
  • As organisations, routine measurement of how employees are doing mentally can and should be a part of key indicators. Workplaces can help prevent mental health problems, promote and protect mental wellbeing and provide enabling environments frothier workers to thrive. Routine assessment of employee mental wellbeing and workplace mental health support initiatives can go a long way to promoting mental wellbeing. Investing in the mental health and wellbeing of employees will bring a greater reward through a more engaged and thriving workforce.
  • As a nation, we can go beyond measuring GDP and consider mental wellbeing factors as part of our socioeconomic growth assessments and even as part of routine census data.

If you think that you or someone you know may be struggling with a mental health problem, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

*Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse is a consultant psychiatrist. Feedback: WhatsApp: +263714987729

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