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Health is defined as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing’. It is therefore essential that mental
health be understood as a fundamental component of overall well-being of both the individual and broader community.
Mental health is conceptualised as a state of sound wellbeing whereby an individual realises his or her own abilities, can
cope with normal stressors of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her
community. Sound mental health therefore provides a strong platform allowing individuals to develop critical
thinking, learning and communication skills, adequately adapt to change, cultivate emotional growth and resilience as
well as maintain positive self-esteem throughout the life course.
Mental illness causes a significant rupture in the well-being equilibrium and presents through illness experiences that
inhibit social functioning. These illness experiences usually exhibit in combinations of abnormal thoughts, perceptions,
emotions, behaviours and relationships with others. Mental illness attributes manifest into an array of disorders with
distinct conditions, epidemiological characteristics and clinical features; and. thus, effective intervention strategies vary.
As with physical health, determinants of mental health include individual, social, cultural, economic, political and
environmental factors. The impact of these factors may differ between individuals and social groups, exposing some to
higher risk of mental illness than others. In the Vanuatu context groups with increased vulnerability include individuals
affected by poverty or vulnerability to poverty, those exposed to violence or abuse – particularly women and children,
individuals affected by the region’s growing chronic disease trends, people with disabilities, communities exposed to
natural disasters and emergencies and incarcerated or previously incarcerated individuals.
Moreover, mental illness and hardship typically function in a cyclical fashion whereby exposure and outcome are
interlinked and interdependent. This is to say that whilst poverty can be a contributing factor to mental illness,
individuals suffering from a mental illness are also disproportionately more likely to experience poverty. This same cycle
is true for homelessness, incarceration and chronic diseases such as cardio-vascular disease and diabetes. Further
considerable concurrence between mental illness and substance abuse has been noted. These factors all contribute to
disproportionately higher rates of disability and mortality experienced by people with mental illness who, due to stigma and discrimination, are also more likely to experience human rights violations.
Since the nation’s first Mental Health Policy and Strategic Plan was drafted in 2009, Vanuatu has made significant
progress in addressing mental health. The profile of mental illness has risen substantially through mental health-specific
and mental health-sensitive programming and, subsequently, the provision of mental health services has expanded.
However, this must not lead to complacency, and given the range of determinants contributing to mental illness a more
comprehensive approach must be taken in addressing mental health moving forward. Therefore for the Vanuatu’s
government and civil society leaders to meet their social responsibility and obligations as outlined in Sustainable
Development Goal 3 and the WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013 – 2020, multi-sector partnerships must continue to
be forged and a holistic approach must be taken to increase the effectiveness of actions undertaken in the mental health