To begin with, here are some not-so-cool mental health facts for you.
1) As many as 20% of children and adolescents all over the world suffer from one kind of mental disorder or another.
2) People who suffer from any kind of mental disorder are much more liable to contract other diseases such as Diabetes, HIV, Cardiovascular diseases and vice-versa.
3) Most of people with mental disorders are never treated because of the common public perception that mental disorders are untreatable and that the patients are usually unintelligent human beings who are born that way or are incapable of making decisions.
4) Most of countries in the world lack a solid legal framework that adequately protects the rights of people with mental disorders.
5) The financial resources required to increase/improve the mental health services in low and middle income countries are USD 2 per capita per year and USD 3-4 per capita per year respectively.
With such a bleak scenario, it is no wonder that mental health is one of those fields that require urgent public and government attention all over the world.
This article works towards creating widespread mental health awareness and dispel the myths about mental illness that are prevalent among the public today.
Definition of Mental Health
World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as "A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease".
The importance of good mental health can be gauged from the fact that it affects a person's thinking, mood and behavior tremendously. Whether a child, adolescent or an adult, the state of mental health determines how people think, feel, act, socialize, handle stress and make choices in their lives.
What are Mental Health Disorders?
Mental health issues comprise a wide range of disorders but the common trait among them all is that they negatively impact a person's behavior, thinking process and ability to interact with others.
Some of the common mental health problems include - depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, dementia, bipolar affective disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety and panic attacks, paranoia and certain developmental disabilities such as autism.
Almost all of the most common mental health problems can be successfully treated today. However, the fact remains that 75%-85% of mental patients in low and middle-income countries, and 35%-50% of those in the high-income countries receive no treatment at all.
Factors Responsible for Mental Health Disorders
While there is no single factor that contributes to mental illness in humans, a combination of various factors can be held responsible for its occurrence. Most of these factors can be classified as following types-:
1) Biological Factors - Genetics, Neurological causes
2) Physical and Psychological Factors - Trauma or abuse
3) Hereditary Factors (Family history of mental health disorders)
A mental disorder can very well be a result of a combination of various factors. And so, more often than not, only a qualified mental health professional is able to provide an accurate diagnosis of the primary cause for any given disorder in a person. However, there are certain signs of mental illness that can be considered to be a "precursor" or symptoms of a possible mental disorder in a person.
Common Mental Health Symptoms
Traditionally, a majority of mental health symptoms have been categorized as either "neurotic" or as "psychotic". While neurotic symptoms refer to more severe forms of normal emotional experiences such as depression, anxiety, stress or panic; psychotic symptoms refer to situations where a person's perception of reality is distorted. Psychotic symptoms are less common among individuals and may involve experiencing delusions that nobody else can around them.
Some examples of early signs of mental illness may include:
i) Over/Under eating (NS)
ii) Over/Under Sleeping (NS)
iii) Experiencing low energy levels all the time (NS)
iv) Numbness or indifference towards life or people, in general (NS)
v) Severe depression (NS)
vi) High addiction to drugs, tobacco or alcohol (NS)
vii) Frequent mood swings and altercations with family or friends (NS)
viii) Hallucinations, hearing voices or seeing things that are not real (PS)
ix) Inflicting self-harm or trying to do so (PS)
x) Staying lost in thoughts or memories for long periods (PS)
(NS - Neurotic Symptoms, PS - Psychotic Symptoms)
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Although some of these symptoms can be commonly identified in different persons, no two people will behave in exactly the same manner when suffering from a specific mental health disorder. A proper mental health assessment only can reveal whether a person is suffering from a mental disorder and its primary cause.
Do I Have a Mental Disorder?
If you are not sure that you (or anybody else for that matter) is living with mental health disorders symptoms, then the above mentioned feelings or behavioral patterns can be considered as a proof or early signs of mental illness.
Additionally, there are various quiz to determine mental illness. However, they do not consider all of the known symptoms and chances are, you will not be answering all the questions asked in the most correct manner yourself, thus rendering the test meaningless.
Therefore, only a registered mental health professional can be considered to provide an accurate diagnosis by conducting a proper mental health assessment. This is because he/she is able to notice even the subtlest of cues to an existing mental problem and brings an outsider's view to the whole situation.
Mental Health Assessment
A mental health assessment is generally performed by a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a primary care doctor or a social worker. The purpose of carrying out a mental health evaluation is to:
- find out if a person is suffering from a mental health problem such as depression, dementia, schizophrenia, ADHD, panic attacks etc.
- help differentiate between mental disorders a person might have. E.g. a mental health assessment can clearly point out if a child is suffering from learning disabilities or some type of behavioral disorder such as ADHD or OCD.
- check the authenticity of a person's claim to mental disability (useful in criminal cases)
- derive a complete picture of how a person feels emotionally and how well can he/she think, reason and act.
- find out any possible neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's and epilepsy.
Some Common Mental Health Assessment Techniques
A mental health test will typically include an interview with a qualified professional (doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist) and can further involve a physical exam, clinical lab tests and written/oral tests.
Some of the mental health questionnaires that exist for various mental illnesses include:
- Hamilton Rating Scale (Depression)
- Beck Depression Inventory (Depression)
- Geriatric Depression Scale (Depression)
- Mini Mental State Examination (Cognitive Functions)
- Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (IQ and Cognitive Ability test)
- Digit Cancellation Test (Alzheimer's)
- Pediatric Attention Disorders Diagnostic Screener (ADHD in children between age 6-12 years)
Mental Health Treatment
A combination of prescription drugs and psychotherapy is considered to be the most successful method for treating most mental illnesses. Additionally, patients have also been able to regain considerable mental strength and recovery by participating in individual and group mental health treatment sessions.
It is important to mention here that no treatment is known to deliver the same results across different individuals. Only a qualified mental health professional is able to prescribe which treatment method would work best for a patient based upon various factors.
Common Mental Health Treatment Options
1) Psychotherapy - A therapeutic method used by a trained mental health professional to improve a person's well-being by exploring his/her deepest thoughts, emotions and visible behavioral patterns. Psychotherapy in combination with prescription medications is considered to be the most effective way to treat a mental disorder. Types of psychotherapy include - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Rational Living Therapy etc.
2) Prescription Drugs - Mainly used for restoring the normal chemical balance of the brain, in order to reduce the visible symptoms of a mental disorder and in some cases, even eliminate them. While use of medication can prove effective for some people within a short duration, others might need to use it on an ongoing basis for a longer period of time (probably for the rest of their lives). Like stated earlier though, medications are most effective only when used in combination with a psychotherapy treatment.
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3) Residential Mental Health Treatment - In simpler words, hospitalization or 24/7 caring for a mental patient. Hospitalization is deemed necessary in some cases where it becomes imperative to closely monitor a patient, obtain a more accurate diagnosis or if the need for an advanced medication or treatment arises.
4) Support Groups - These generally comprise non-professional group members, who, more often than not, themselves have suffered from similar mental disorders in the past. Each of the member in a support group shares his/her experiences and tries to help and guide others towards recovery.
5) Alternative Therapy & Medicines - There have been certain cases where alternative therapies have proved to be successful. Some well-known alternative therapies and medicines include homeopathy, Ayurveda (Herbal medicines), hypnosis, Bowen Technique, Acupuncture etc.
Almost all of the most common mental health problems can be successfully treated today. However, the fact remains that as much as 75%-85% of mental patients in low and middle-income countries, and 35%-50% of those in the high-income countries receive no treatment at all.
Meaning of Positive Mental Health and Its Benefits
Positive mental health is a state of mind where a person can truly claim to possess emotional, social and physical well-being. More than the absence of any observable mental health problems, a positive mental health can be characterized by the following aspects:
- Positive feelings
- High engagement level in work and daily activities
- Healthy relationships all around
- An everlasting sense of purpose and meaning to life
- Emotional stability
- Ability to bounce back from setbacks
- Increased vitality
- realize his/her full potential
- work more productively
- contribute in a meaningful way to his family and the community
- cope with changes and uncertainty in every walk of life
- reap social, emotional and economic rewards as well
How to Foster Good Mental Health?
There are several ways that can help a person maintain and improve his/her mental health.
1) Open up - Talking and opening up about your feelings will help you stay in positive mental health and deal with troubles effectively.
2) Stay active - Regular physical exercise helps with concentration, sleep, self-esteem and overall health of human body. It also helps to improve the mental health.
3) Eat healthy - A good healthy diet helps the brain to stay fit and function properly just like any other organ.
4) Cut back on alcohol - Drinking affects the brain and the rest of the body in a negative way. That is the reason why you feel worse once the effects of alcohol wears off. Avoid drinking alcohol whenever feeling down, instead indulge in some creative hobby or passion.
5) Socialize - Catch up with family and friends in person or over a phone or online chatting. Communicating with others is the key to mental health wellness.
6) Seek professional help - If need arises, ask for help from trained professionals or any other person who cares about you. It always helps when someone is there to hear you out.
7) Take a break - It could be anything - a trip, a change of pace, good long hour of sleep, cleaning up your room or house or watching a movie. A few minutes doing what you love helps your brain relax and promotes well-being.
8) Help others - Seek out a person who you think might be in need of some support. Helping others instils a feeling of satisfaction and upliftment in your mind, as well as allows to maintain good relationships with others.
A positive mental health is a natural state of the mind and is freely available to all. A person who is not dealing with depression, too much stress, anxiety and other psychological problems, is able to live life to the fullest. With the increasing complexities of human lifestyle though, attaining and maintaining positive mental health has become more difficult than ever.
However, by practicing a healthy lifestyle and cultivating healthy relationships, a person can attain mental health wellness. If anybody finds himself unable to do so, he/she must seek external help from others or consult a qualified mental health professional to turn things around for himself/herself. Contrary to the popular belief, mental disorders can be treated successfully and any one can recover to lead a normal life again.
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