On the occasion of Mental Health Awareness Month. Dr Dida Khonglah, psychiatrist at SAN-KER, addresses the many challenges, including stigma and discrimination, people with mental illness face. Read on to know more.
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Going by this definition, for any individual to be labelled as healthy, he/she has to be mentally fit as well. The WHO includes realising one’s potential, the ability to cope with normal life stresses and community contributions as core components of mental health. Mental health can be viewed as a human right and it can be argued that ‘there is no health without mental health’.
As we are heading towards the end of the month of May which is also celebrated as World Mental Health Awareness month, it is only apt to highlight the importance of mental health. Mental health is not merely the absence of mental illness but it is a state of complete well-being, our ability to enjoy life and to effectively deal with the challenges we face.
About 6-7 % of the Indian population suffers from mental disorders. The Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY) loss due to neuropsychiatric disorders is much higher than diarrhoea, malaria, worm infestations and tuberculosis, if taken individually.
One in seven people from India have suffered from mental illness ranging from depression, anxiety to severe conditions such as schizophrenia. It is no exaggeration to say that we are heading for a mental health epidemic, especially in trying times like these.
Mental health promotion begins from conception to old age. Almost half of all mental health problems originate in childhood and early adolescence. Children who are exposed to environment that promotes healthy psychological growth tend to flourish and develop self-confidence and self-esteem.
Therefore, it is essential to support the psychological well-being of children if society is to reap the benefits of greater wellbeing, later in life.
Combating discrimination, social exclusion and stigmatization is the crux of mental health promotion. Mental health awareness goes beyond just educating the community about mental illness. A constructive approach to promoting mental health would be to highlight factors that promote resilience and a positive state of wellbeing. Resilience is the ability to cope with stress and adversity by utilising effective and appropriate coping strategies and personal strengths.
There are many challenges that people suffering from mental health disorders face. First and foremost, many suffer in silence. They are not able to understand what is going on with them. They do not know who to turn to, and most importantly many don’t recognise that negative thoughts and emotions require professional help. We are being fed by culture and our society that if we harbour such negative thoughts, feelings or if we lack volition, we are of weak moral character.
Many in the community identify patients with mental illness to be violent and disruptive. This is partly due to the false depiction of mental illness in the media and television. Due to these factors, there is a lot of discrimination and individuals often avoid or delay in seeking professional help.
Despite the availability of cost-effective interventions, help-seeking for mental health is still low. Apart from stigma, other factors that increase the treatment gap includes poor knowledge of mental health, cultural belief that mental illness is caused by black magic or evil spirits, confidentiality concerns, and perceived ineffectiveness of mental health services.
Learning about early warning signs and seeking help early on can help reduce the severity of an illness.
The warning signs include –
Sleep and appetite changes
A drop in functioning at school and at home
Problems thinking – one cannot concentrate and focus
Hearing voices that others cannot hear and believing something that is not true
Thoughts of harming oneself
Fearful and suspicious of others
If any of these symptoms are present and hampers the daily functioning of an individual, it is a sign to see a mental health professional.
The cost-effective interventions to promote mental health include –
Taking care of your physical health, exercise regularly, eat nutritious diet, get adequate sleep.
Maintain connections with trusted friends and family. Express your feelings with someone you trust.
Avoid indulging in substances such as alcohol, cannabis etc.
Engage in community events.
Most importantly practice meditation (yoga, mindfulness, prayer etc) routinely. This increases discipline, regularization of one’s lifestyle, and increased commitment to one’s own self-care.
Let us remind ourselves to learn and make it normal to talk about mental illness and not to discriminate against those who suffer alone. If we note any changes in behaviour in our near and dear ones, let us lend a listening ear and connect them to professionals who can help them.