What is Mental Health?
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises their potential, can cope with the everyday stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to her or his community.
The definition seems vague. Mental health is an essential part of our overall well-being. Mental health doesn’t just mean the absence of a mental illness, but being able to think, feel, and develop relationships using healthy cognition. A person is mentally healthy when they’re cognitively, emotionally, and socially healthy and are resilient and able to cope with difficult situations. Feeling sad, angry, or other emotions is part of our life experiences.
Let’s take an example.
Mental Health Continuum Model
Our mental health falls on a continuum, where mental health and mental illness are at the two extreme ends. There is much ground between being healthy and being ill. An individual’s position shifts, depending on various internal and external factors, and we feel different kinds of emotions. For example, we feel happy when we get a promotion and feel sad when losing a friend.
Everyone feels sad or low now and then, but we should seek help from a mental health professional if our emotions and thoughts start interfering with our ability to function daily. Mental health is often overlooked in our society, and it’s not uncommon for people around us to take it lightly.
Unfortunately, we’ll keep going lower toward the other end of the continuum, if not taken seriously, and develop a mental illness due to extreme distress for an extended period.
Am I Mentally Healthy?
Let’s talk about the characteristics of a healthy mind. Remember that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to another person but should always strive to better ourselves.
- To be satisfied and content with one’s life and personality and perform daily tasks and responsibilities.
- Contribute to society and feel part of a group/community. A person should be able to take part in meaningful conversations and perform their role in social situations.
- Be able to empathise and respect other’s feelings.
- Be able to effectively manage emotions and be open about one’s feelings
- Be self-sufficient in making decisions, solving problems and organizing information
- Can balance work and social life, and work towards hobbies/interests.
- Be resilient to cope with difficult situations. A person should be flexible and adapt to facing different situations and alter thoughts/views when faced with facts.
You get the idea. We should seek help for problems that start to affect our daily lives because it will only worsen if we delay them. Imagine a wound on your body. It will keep getting worse if we don’t seek professional help for it, right?
The Mind and Body Connection
Our mind, brain, and body are connected. Studies showed that 67% of people with heart diseases suffered from a form of depression. Stress is the most significant contributor to psychiatric illnesses, and it also causes harm to our body. It can cause problems such as stomach and body aches, migraines, and insomnia. It also affects our immune system.
Serotonin is a hormone that regulates our mood, and our body produces 95% of the essential hormone in the gastrointestinal tract.
The mind and body connection is real. Caring for our mental health and maintaining a healthy diet is essential to maintain physical and psychological well-being.
Mental Health or Mental Illness?
We all have mental health, and it is just as important as physical health. Mental health and mental illness are not the same things. It is important to remember that mental health is more than the absence of a mental illness. Mental illness is similar to having diabetes. It cannot be cured but can be treated effectively.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, mental illnesses are “conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feelings, mood and behaviour.” It refers to a wide range of disorders that can affect anyone, irrespective of age, religion, gender, or social status. Biological or psychosocial factors can cause it, and there are clinical symptoms that vary widely. It’s important to know that clinical psychologists or psychiatrists diagnose mental illnesses, and treatment involves medication and psychotherapy.
Remember, mental illness is not an identity. People have a mental illness. They’re not their mental illness.
How To Improve Mental Health
There are several ways you can improve your mental health. A few necessary things to do are:
- Maintain a healthy diet. A nutritious diet is necessary for physical and mental health. The National Institute of Health stated that eating junk food can cause violent behaviour and depression.
- Improve your sleep schedule. It’s essential to sleep for eight hours and wake up at the same time every day. Scientists have linked Depression with poor sleep patterns, and it helps increase productivity and concentration.
- Keep Active. Dr Nikhath Fatima, in our webinar Chronic Illnesses and Mental Health, said that thirty minutes of walk is equivalent to taking antidepressants. Exercise helps you sleep well, boosts confidence and keeps the brain sharp.
- Talk about your feelings. Emotions need to be acknowledged, validated and processed.
- Be comfortable with asking for help because we all need it sometimes. It can be from friends and family or mental health professionals. It’s not a sign of weakness but strength.
- There’s a connection between creativity and mental health. Take some time off to indulge in doing something you love. It helps you relieve suppressed negative emotions and helps alleviate stress. It also builds self-confidence.
- Practice mindfulness. It can help decrease stress levels.
Mental Healthcare Scenario in India
A report written by NIMHANS in 2016 stated that about ten percent of the Indian population suffer from a form of mental illness. According to WHO, in 2016, India is the second most depressed country.
The Indian population faces a significant challenge to access mental healthcare facilities. The lack of adequate mental health facilities in tier-two and tier-three cities is a massive hurdle in seeking professional help in India. People living in rural areas are unable to access mental health care due to the unavailability of such facilities.
Seeking professional mental healthcare in India seems a luxury since not everyone can afford therapy. Seeking therapy from mental health professionals is expensive, which makes it burdensome. It’s a significant deterrent in accessing mental healthcare.
Since mental health therapy is still a taboo in society, many do not open up about their struggles and continue to suffer in silence. There are several misconceptions associated with mental illnesses and treatment.
The lack of awareness causes much stigma in India. Some believe that seeking help for mental health issues means the person has a mental illness. We’d become more aware and better at coping with our mental health challenges if schools added mental health education to the curriculum. The stigma is abysmal and prevents many from seeking help.
The lack of awareness causes people not to know if they should seek help from a mental health professional and how therapy works. There are many misconceptions about mental health therapy that disrupts our understanding of seeking professional help. Our society judges us if we do want to, sometimes by people closest to us.
50% of people show signs of mental distress at the age of 14, and 75% show signs at 24. The approximate delay between showing symptoms and seeking help is around 11 years. Maybe people wouldn’t have developed an illness if they had sought help much earlier.
Therapy helps us learn new techniques and coping skills to manage daily stressors better. It helps us to explore our emotions, thoughts and behaviour patterns. For example, behavioural activation is a concept that helps us plan our day when we feel we’re withdrawing from everyday activities. It also helps people who feel that they no longer have time or interest/motivation for things they found pleasure in doing earlier.
Therapy helps. I hope the article was helpful, and please share if you think a loved one will benefit from reading this article.
Source: Farheen Rashid, Founder- With Love, We Care, Mental Health Social Worker