Why Do We Need Emotion Awareness Day?

Mental health disorders impose an enormous burden on society, accounting for almost one in three years lived with disability, with significant consequences for both individuals, families, communities, and nations. The global economic impact is enormous.  

According to WHO’s reports, as many as 450 million people suffer from a mental or behavioral disorder, anxiety and depression being the most common (WHO, 2003, 2016). The human suffering of individuals who struggle with mental health issues is profound, and so is the impact on families’quality of life (WHO report, 2016). One in four families has at least one member with a mental healthdisorder. There is growing acknowledgement of the close link between childhood adversities and mental as well as somatic health. The ACE studies (Felitti et al., 1998; CDC) has found cumulative correlations of childhood adversities and later risk for developing both mental health problems and somatic conditions, including costly and potentially fatal illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV and obesity. The higher prevalence of adversities – the higher risk for health problems.  

There is also a growing base of research that points to problems with emotion regulation or the avoidance of emotions as underlying causes for mental health problems and disorders. In fact, both anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse are linked to poor emotional competence. In that sense, mental health issues can be understood as unmet emotional needs. This might surprise you – let usexplain how. 

Our emotional life starts at birth, but our neurophysiological development started even earlier. We are born with emotions, even if their range, magnitude, duration and how susceptible they are for being aroused or calmed, differ substantially from child to child. Newborns express all their needs through their emotional expressions. When a child cries, this tells their primary caregivers that something important is at stake. Our emotions make an extremely powerful communicating system that tells us what we need, so we can communicate this to our surroundings.  

When at child’s needs for safety, closeness and acceptance are met, the child’s aroused emotions are calmed and he or she can proceed in their developmental process. If the needs are not met, the childcan experience prolonged emotional distress that causes pain which the child must deal with on its own. For instance, if a child needs closeness and soothing from its caregiver, and the caregiver is available to provide the child with comfort, it will feel safe and calm. Repeated over time, this experience will provide the child with an internalized soothing from the caregiver, which will enhance the child’s capacity to self-soothe when it experiences emotional distress. Needs being met will also give the child an experience of having influence on their surroundings, and that his or her emotions are valid sources of information about their own needs. In time, this will facilitate a basic trust in others and encourage the child to express their needs. If the caregiver is not available, the child will experience loneliness and fear, as they are left to deal with the distress of such powerful emotion on their own. Also, when a child’s need to be accepted, understood and validated are met, the child will learn to accept and tolerate their own feelings and their own self. When this need is not met, the child can feel shame and self-loath.    

Fear, shame and lonely abandonment are extremely painful emotions. If there are no one available to help the person understand the link between emotional suffering and the unmet needs, the child will, by time, develop strategies to protect itself from this pain. This could be oppositional behavior, avoiding others, or regulating emotions through food or substance abuse. The unmet needs have now turned in to symptoms which in time can develop into mental health problems and disorders. 

Thus, how the child is met by their caregivers in early childhood, will shape how the child relates to their own emotions and self, and to other people. An implication of this is that knowledge about emotions and promotion of emotional skills and competence is important both on individual, family and community levels to enhance emotional health and prevent human suffering and mental health problems. 

This shows why it is important to begin with where it all starts. To prevent mental health problemswe need holistic approaches that embraces the importance of paying attention to our emotions, learn how to listen to the body’s emotional signals and react to them in adaptive ways. This will contribute to better mental health, healthier neurophysiological and cognitive development and prevent mental illnesses in the future. 

So why do we need Emotion Awareness Day (EAD)? Because emotions are our most important motivational system, and most of us don’t know how they work. Emotions have been heavily underestimated in working with mental health. We sometimes talk about our emotions, but werarely show our real emotions when they don’t objectively feel legit, without self-criticism or fear of lonely abandonment, even in close relationships. 

In our current zeitgeist regarding mental health, we often relay on the dichotomies of mind or body, psyche or soma, emotions or reason. One metaphor is comparing the human mind to a computer orinformation processing unit. Even though this metaphor can serve us well in explaining important aspects of human functioning, we believe it can also provide us with a skewed view on what it means to be human. Firstly, this metaphor does not put human experience at center. Secondly, emotions and emotional pain can be perceived as irrational mistakes in programming. Even though emotions are being put more to the fore in the field of psychotherapy, in schools, in workplaces and in the modern society, they are often treated as secondary to other mental processes. Thirdly, this metaphor does not sufficiently highlight fundamental human motivational aspects, such as seeking connection, experiencing love, exploring and confirming our identity. 

EAD is needed in order to influence the current zeitgeist by communicating knowledge to the world about the importance of experiencing and processing emotions. We believe EAD is needed to unite voices that are talking about emotions and the experiencing of emotions as the key point of interest to the field of mental health. It is needed to improve our understanding of emotions and how they change. And it is needed in order to make the world a more emotion friendly place. Our believe is that this will lead to better communication, more tolerance for diversity, and ultimately will aid the human race in helping our entire planet prosper. 

We already have world mental health day, why do we need emotion awareness day in addition?

World Mental Health Day has an important focus on overall mental health, with specific themes that ranges from building health care services to creating awareness around specific diagnosis. Even though world mental health day have been marked worldwide since 1996, emotions have not been highlighted in any particular year, probably because there are so many important areas to highlight.If WMHD will set focus specifically on emotions, this will most likely be limited to a single year’s theme, which will be substituted with another important mental health issue the following year. Our stand is that emotions – our most fundamental motivation system – needs a yearly marking of its importance through an international day like Emotion Awareness Day. Because emotions are essential in every aspect of life, from wellbeing to suffering, from learning to decision making, we need to know them, embrace them and celebrate all emotions. EAD will be that voice, once a year,telling you that your emotions are important and give you valuable information – use them to enhance and prosper by going through pain instead of snowballing around it. Increased awareness about emotion will affect parenting, individual mental health, the workplace, physical health as well as warfare and politics, because emotions influence all aspects of life.

So we encourage you to mark both world mental health day and Emotion awareness day