As citizens do we have a moral obligation to play a greater role in the care of mental health patients?

By, Mabroor Ahmed and Nabeel Asif

We ask the question that what, if anything at all, can we do as citizens to help those who suffer from mental health issues? Is it in our interest to help someone who is going through depression or is that an inefficient (economically speaking) use of our time? The mantra of individualism comes under critique here as we argue that it is the duty of every citizen to play an active role in helping with the welfare of our fellow citizens, and in fact humanity as a whole. First, let us put forward some context on the issue.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health: a fundamental right of every human being as, a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease”[1]. Mental health contributes equally to the triad of states; approximately 20% of the World’s childhood and adolescent population have mental disorders. The worldwide leading cause of disability is substance use and mental disorders, it is estimated that 23% of all years lost because of disability is caused because of this [3]. Furthermore, studies have shown that healthcare professionals find those most difficult to manage are patients with mental disorders [4].

Similar to WHOs definition of health, mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder, but can be defined as “a state of well-being in which every 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 contribution to his or her community”[2]. Therefore, these requirements must be taken into consideration when attempting to improve a person’s mental well-being.

Indeed, the care of mental health patients could be a lot better. Andrew Solomon, in his TED talk titled ‘Depression, the secret we share’ states the following:

‘The treatments we have for depression are appalling. They are not very effective, they are extremely costly, they come with innumerable side-effects – they are a disaster. I am so grateful that I live now, and not fifty years ago, where there was almost nothing to be done. I hope that fifty years hence people hear about my treatments and are appalled that anyone endured such primitive signs’.

It is clear that the health services available are seen as the primary place for mental health patients to seek help.  However, if we consider prevention, we as citizens can endeavour to create an environment where we are not afraid of addressing these issues. Indeed, by getting everyone involved in activities in your local community, the chances of people feeling disconnected is reduced and if anyone is feeling the early strains of depression, they should know that there is someone they can talk to, not just on a professional level but on a personal level, thus reducing the chances of it becoming a deeper form of depression.


Mental health, like many other health issues, is best prevented early. By the time the symptoms become obvious and professional help is sought, the road to recovery is longer and, some could argue not as straightforward. It is for this reason that we should advocate an active role in the community as part of a duty for our society. We believe that (for once) David Cameron is on the right lines when he speaks of having a ‘Big Society’. Setting aside the politics of the Big Society, we believe the essence of the message is very relevant today.

The case for citizens having an active involvement in the community has been presented here with the focus on mental health. While is it clear that the affordable care for mental health patients should be improved, it is the duty of a citizen to take an active interest in the mental well-being of the members of its community. Many may feel that helping someone with a mental health issue is a waste of time; not because they don’t want to, but because they may feel that they cannot do anything to make a difference. On the contrary, we as citizens are the first line of defence. If we consider prevention of depression (and other mental health illnesses) in the same light as a cure, then we have a moral duty towards our society.

What is for certain is that if we see our role as useless and a waste of time, then we let down our fellow citizens by passing the role of care on to someone else.

It is with small changes that we can work towards making the big differences.

How can you help?

If you are interested to help people with mental health conditions there are some schemes available to join which include: (Not only do these look great on your CV, but they give you actual real life experience and the chance to make a difference!)

Sane runs a national, out-of-hours mental health helpline offering specialist emotional support and information to anyone affected by mental illness, including family, friends and carers.

The Anxiety UK  helpline is the first port of call for many who are experiencing anxiety for the first time. Calls vary from those who just want a brief chat, to calls from people in the grips of a panic attack, or those who are experiencing a crisis.

If mental health has affected you or someone you know what helped you to overcome it or what would you like to see done to improve mental health care? Leave a message in the comments below.


[1] WHO | World Health Organization. 2014. WHO | World Health Organization. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 January 2014].

[2] WHO | What is mental health?. 2014. WHO | What is mental health?. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 January 2014].

[3] WHO | Mental health: a state of well-being. 2014. WHO | Mental health: a state of well-being. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 30 January 2014].

[4] Stigma as a barrier to recovery: Perceived stigma and patient-rated severity of illness as predictors of antidepressant drug adherence., Psychiatric services [1075-2730] Sirey Year: 2001 Volume: 52 Issue: 12 Page: 1615 -1620