The past nearly 40 years has seen man-made and re-emerging diseases, which are mainly caused by mental illness.
Global health issues have been the center of much research because of their rapid change and massive impact on people’s lives.
Mary Howard, an Ohio Wesleyan University professor of sociology and anthropology, addressed the progress and challenges of global health at Friday’s Great Decisions community series about foreign policy.
“Besides the physical illnesses that happened before 1970, mental illness has been the main cause of many diseases nowadays,” Howard said. “It is surprising that half of the 10 leading causes of disabilities have come from psychiatric conditions, including depression, alcoholism and obsessive compulsive disorder.”
In 2010, mental disorders and substance abuse were considered by the American Medical Association as the two main causes of disabilities, more than any other causes including HIV/AIDS. These causes remained at the top of the list in 2016.
“Stress, trauma and poverty also play a big role in lowering our immunity to physical illness,” Howard said. “I have seen a recent survey showing that students before exams are more likely to get a cold or a flu than at any other times of the school year.”
Howard said a massive drought in India in 2015 drove approximately 3,000 farmers to suicide because of the stress the drought caused. Many of those farmers were already in deep debt and relied on loans they couldn’t pay. The drought destroyed the crops and pushed the farmers into a cycle of poverty.
Howard said there are efforts to improve health care for the poor and to strengthen public health infrastructure in many countries. She noted one such effort called “Partner in Health.” Since the 1980s, UNICEF has campaigned to improve child survival by supporting health programs in third-world countries.
The good news, she said, is that between 1990 and 2016 there was more than a 50 percent decrease in the number deaths worldwide of children age 5 and under.
Danielle Clarke, a former OWU librarian, said, “Dr. Howard touched so many aspects that I did not know about before such as how the spectrum of stress can cause physical illness.”
Kurt Clarke, her husband, said, “These disorders impacted people’s lives. I guess we did not pay attention to that as much as we do nowadays. People, back in my day, would tell you to not make up stress and to stop dramatizing your conditions. That is not good.”
Howard has traveled to many of the world’s countries to deepen her knowledge about global health. She said she hopes to transmit awareness to others, especially young students, and inspire them to make a change for both themselves and for the world.
Great Decisions 2018 is Delaware’s free community discussion series about current U.S. foreign policy. It runs every Friday at noon through March 23 at the William Street United Methodist Church, 28 W. William St.
Tung Nguyen is a senior at Ohio Wesleyan University.