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A report from the United Nations shows that at least one in four people globally will experience mental health problems in their lifetime. Yet, there seems to be a need to develop healthier attitudes towards mental health. Given these realities, the Public Health Department of Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) held their annual Health Emphasis Weekend on November 16-18, 2018 which focused on mental health.

“Mental health is a global health issue that requires urgent local action,” says Dr. Godwin Aja, Public Health Department chairperson at AIIAS.

Creating awareness and deeper understanding of mental health should lead to real collective and individual actions.

Pukar Shrestha, a public health student and one of the organizers of the health emphasis weekend says that a mental health problem should not only be recognized once it becomes serious. The goal of the health festival is “to find out how these issues can be encountered and addressed in its early stage and to break the stigma and taboo on mental health,” continued Shrestha.

Anchoring to the theme “Mind Health Starts with Me", organizers hoped to serve all members of the AIIAS community including its neighboring communities.

The presence of negative perceptions and attitudes toward individuals who experience mental health issues has been a challenge for many leaders and public health professionals.

“There is the need for more open conversations on mental health issues across population groups–mothers, fathers, children, adolescents, students, faculty, and staff–to curb the rising tide of stigmatization and discrimination against those living with mental health issues. Access to care for those affected with mental health issues is germane also,” Godwin Aja.

Mental health is often an issue that is being avoided.

“We hardly talk about this topic. We accept stress as a normal part of life but finding a solution does not seem to be easy whether in the family or community. So, as people of God, we need to help people and talk more openly,” added Shrestha.

The Health Festival Weekend aimed to build awareness that should be followed by real actions to see that change is truly happening and the community benefits from the activities.

“[Mental health] is an area that we all need to work on and talk about this more openly. This problem should not be kept hidden and more initiation is needed on the social aspect. The effort on quality communication must be increased and the reason for the problem must be found. An effort should be made to find a solution on what should be done about it.” concluded Shrestha.

The Health Festival Weekend featured health screening for participants, health lectures with a biblical standpoint, panel discussion, social activities, and outdoor games which were actively participated by the community members, shown by the high turnout of attendees.

“The health emphasis events help the AIIAS community to reflect deeper on what we can do individually and collectively to identify and address mental health concerns, recognizing that academic, social, and spiritual excellence and leadership require a sound mind,” says Aja. “The responses we have got so far show that the community enjoyed every aspect of the program and is asking for more,” he continued.

The Health Festival Weekend is an annual activity sponsored by the AIIAS Public Health Department of AIIAS in collaboration with the Health Ministries of the AIIAS Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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