An initiative to focus on Mental Health in the Faroe Islands to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
Governments and communities globally see an urgent need for promoting mental health as a priority in public health. However, to counteract against increasing mental challenges, an easily understood framework and a common language to act is widely missing. The ABC (Act-Belong-Commit) mental health promotion campaign could offer a solution here.
ABC (in Scandinavia it is called the ABCs of mental health) is the world’s first comprehensive population-wide public mental health promotion campaign, which was launched in 2008 in Western Australia and has been adapted to national and international nations and communities since.
“Act-Belong-Commit” targets individuals with respect to engaging in activities that strengthen and maintain good mental health whilst, at the same time, targeting municipalities and organizations that offer mentally healthy activities to act as ‘social franchises’ for the campaign, promoting the messages internally to their staff and/or externally to their clients or local communities.
(Source: Donovan RJ, Koushede VJ, Drane CF, Hinrichsen C, Anwar-McHenry J, Nielsen L, Nicholas A, Meilstrup C, Santini ZI. Twenty-One Reasons for Implementing the Act-Belong-Commit-‘ABCs of Mental Health’ Campaign. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Oct 21;18(21):11095. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182111095. PMID: 34769615; PMCID: PMC8583649.)
ABC has been introduced to the Faroe Islands already in Fall 2016, when the founder of Act Belong Commit visited the Faroes Island. By then, the ABCs of Mental Health were part of the Faroese Board of Public Health.
The 1 of January in 2023, the Faroese Board of Public Health was united with two other institutions – they are now “the Faroese Health Authority”, and the holder of the project.
Monika Mohr is the Head of Section and Project Manager for ABCs of mental health in the Faroe Islands and has been tasked with the implementation of the Initiative to the Faroese society, leading the campaign from beginning of 2017.
“The first steps were to adapt the concept to the language and culture of the Faroe Islands to bring it closer to our people. Also, a flexible adaption of the ABC messages was necessary to fit to the size and location of the Faroese community.”
“To make the campaign as widely popular as possible, a series of presentations and activities brought in partnerships with 9 different municipalities from our 18 islands. In total we collaborate with 28 partners, like the psychiatric department in the hospital, the Red Cross, The Faroese Confederation of Sports and Olympic Committee, the Football Association, and various Health Initiatives. The common goal is to create mental health-promoting environments in communities across the country and to run campaigns which give visibility to the ABC messages and create consciousness about behaviours promoting good mental health.”
The ABC project is financed by public funds and not limited to a certain period of time; partners do not have to pay but need to allocate a person in the team for the work in the project.
Before the ABC for mental health initiative started, only a few data on mental health were available, stemming from the National Public Health Survey from 2015. In 2019 more questions about mental health and questions about ABC were added to the Survey. The Public Health Survey is a national study on the health and well-being of the general population. The surveys from 2019 and 2023 provided a link between ABC parameters and lifestyle factors and general health status and well-being.
“ABCs of mental health has a greater focus on promoting mental health rather than only focusing on preventing mental illness. By promoting mental health, we reach out to everyone in the population, and we also prevent mental illness. This positive approach gets nothing but positive feedback from citizens and organizations. Another advantage of the ABCs of mental health is their universal frame of application – it can be used across every age group, culture, and social background and for people with mental illness and people with good mental health. “
To work in partnerships on this positive concept across different sectors is also new and special – Monika coordinates a working group of all partner representatives which meets quarterly for a whole day. The partners of the initiative do not pay any fees but need to appoint a coordinator each to be available for the implementation of the project in the organizations.
Monika has deepened the topic by doing additional research into the qualitative aspects of mental health among young people in the Faroe Islands. The study has investigated the main reasons for mental suffering among this group, and the results were recently presented in a scientific article with the title “The paradox of endless options and unrealistic expectations: understanding the impact on youth mental health”.
(source: Monika Mohr, Vár Honnudóttir, Magni Mohr & Annika Helgadóttir Davidsen (2023) The paradox of endless options and unrealistic expectations: understanding the impact on youth mental health, International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 28:1, DOI: 10.1080/02673843.2023.2242475 )
The results from our National Health Survey from 2019 showed that especially young people struggled the most with symptoms of psychological stress, depression, and loneliness. The aim of Monika’s qualitative study was to gain a better understanding of the conditions that may affect their mental health in young Faroese people’s lives. And now the results from the qualitative study find their way into the ABC project – focusing more on young people and their environments.
Three main themes were identified that show young people’s perception of what mainly impacts their mental conditions and health. These are:
- Too many options,
- High expectations and
- Limiting small-scale living.
Too many options:
Young people appreciate the many options they have, but there is also a downside of having too many of them: the process of deciding or choosing something over another is complicated. Most of the interviewees have a feeling that they should hurry through life and feel a pressure to excel academically and personally, which leaves little room for being in doubt or experimenting with different options.
Expectations are too high:
Multiple sources of high expectations were identified – high expectations of themselves, parents and other family members, peers, from society and, to a large part, from social media, because they confront permanently with other peoples´ accomplishments. These standards of achievement can be difficult to live up to and co-create the pressure that some young people experience.
The limiting ways of small-scale living:
….in remote islands are also negatively impacting young peoples’ mental health. Specific stressors are e g expensive costs for living and inadequate housing possibilities, limited leisure activities and lack of prospects for academic employment.
An ABC conference was held in the Faroe Islands in May 2022 where presentations of the Danish and the Faroese ABC Teams were featured. Monika also showcased the work with the ABCs of mental health together with Magni Mohr of the Faroese University at the European Public Health Conference in Rome in May 2023.
Asked for the main conclusions so far for the ABC initiative, Monika says
“it takes time to implement ABCs of mental health, but it is possible to reach out to many people and create changes on the long term, because we work on different levels – individual, group and society level with mental health promotion”
Examples of Events operated within the ABC initiative are
- ABC week
- Active January and Active October (calendar with 31 ABC activities)
- School games (ABC is implemented into a huge Faroese school project with the aim to create joy of movement among pupils)
- Environment days
- Culture days
- Rørslufagnaður (movement event)
- Youth in work
- Mental health day
- When was the last time you did something good for other people?
- What gives you energy?
- What do you want to do more often in your everyday?
The questions can trigger a small meditation while waiting for the bus and this interactive tool is used by several of the project partners for coworkers, pupils in schools, events and so on.
One of many good ideas helping people to stop and reflect on own behaviours promoting mental health.
If you organise medical conferences with a topic related to mental health, it will be a good idea to bring it to the Faroe Islands and relate it to the ABCs of mental health initiative there for legacy, new experiences and exchange of knowledge with Monika and her associates.
Come and visit the Faroe Islands with your sport, cultural or business event and make sure to contribute to environment or society through knowledge and purposeful events, using the SDGs as orientation. We are happy to help you design your conference legacy – e g by organising visits and meetings with innovators!
More general information about the Faroe Islands can be found by visiting the Visit Faroe Islands Meetings website.
content design/editing: Johanna Fischer / ecomice – FrauBlau for Visit Faroe Islands Meeting, 20. December 2023