From the start to the end of life, most of our actions are directed towards better health and well-being. But health is a multi-component concept.
The World Health Organization defines “Health” as being inclusive of physical and mental health – a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (1948).
Thus, being healthy is understood as being physically as well as mentally well.
Mental health affects the way we think, feel and act.
Our mental health determines how we handle stress, how we maintain our relationships and how we make choices. It is often called ‘invisible health’ because it is not tangible.
It is crucial to understand that mental and physical health are interlinked and interdependent, meaning are complementary.
Mental health is linked to various health conditions. There are various cases where it can be clearly understood that mental and physical health are related to each other. For example- people suffering from diabetes (physiological illness) are more vulnerable to anxiety (mental illness); people suffering from depression (mental illness) are more vulnerable to cardiovascular diseases (physical illness).
Mental health is understood in two categories- common mental disorders and severe mental disorders- depending on the type and severity of symptoms.
A sound mental health helps cope with other physical health conditions in a better manner. An individual with sound mental health is capable of taking care of themselves and of others in an efficient manner. Mental well-being is important not just for the individual but for the family and for the society as well. Mental health is important because it allows people to:
- Realise their full potential
- Cope with the stresses of life
- Maintain meaningful relationships
- Work productively
- Make meaningful contributions to their communities
The present burden of mental illnesses is growing at a pan-global level with present statistics indicating that more than 450 million people suffer from some form of mental illness.
It is also estimated that one in four people are at risk of developing some mental illness at some point in their lifetime.
In India, 60, 000,000 people suffer from mental illnesses, a number which is more than the entire population of South Africa. We can conclude that greater attention needs to be paid to mental health in our country. The need is even greater considering the stigma and misconceptions which often stops people from reaching out for help.
Mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect anyone regardless of your age, gender, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation, background or other aspects of your cultural identity.
While mental illnesses can occur at any age, three-fourths of all mental illness begins by the age of 24. Recently, the age for developing illnesses has dropped due to increased lifestyle stresses and varied other reasons. It is also important to remember that each gender is more prone to certain illnesses over their counterpart because of the biological aspects of the illness and the prevailing socio-cultural factors.
It is equally important to remember that the way an illness is manifested in an individual can vary with minimal differences from person to person.
There is never a single cause of any mental illness.
There are several risk factors that predispose an individual to mental illnesses. Thus, mental illnesses can be caused due to various factors such as- biological factors (genes, infections, birth defects etc), psychological factors (personality traits, mental status, psychological stressors etc) and social factors (environment, socio-economic factors, family, relationships etc).
There are a lot of contributing factors in the 21st century that impact not just the physical health but also the mental health.
It should no longer be a luxury but a necessity to pay attention to the mental health of an individual for several reasons-
- There are increasing stressors at all stages of life (from increasing academic competition to work timelines and other socio-economic burdens)
- Breakdown in family structures (increasing number of nuclear families which reduces the support of a joint family)
- Changing lifestyle habits (altered sleeping, eating and working patterns)
- Increased use of technology (ill-effects of gadget use have led to internet addiction in the 21st century)
- Behavioural addictions are a growing trend adding to the burden of mental illnesses
- Increased use of substances and alcohol
- Reduced social support
- Emotional suppression and not talking about problems leads to increased stress
- Prevalent stigma and taboo about mental health itself restricts the approach to seeking help
The treatment gap (ratio of the number of people who need treatment to the number of people who receive treatment) is huge in India as only 1 out of 10 people receive treatment and more than 90% of people go without receiving any sort of help and treatment for their illness.
There are several reasons for the treatment gap, such as-
- Lack of infrastructure
- Lack of professionals
- Lack of quality training
- Lack of access to mental health resources
- Stigma attached to mental health problems
- Ignorance about health care and hygiene
- Superstitious beliefs
- Lack of affordable services
In such a situation, it is often asked as to what steps should one take in order to take care of the mental health of a near and dear one? There are many effective ways of responding, including-
- Make space for family members, colleagues and friends to speak about their problems- sometimes all people need is that someone listens
- Listen to them without judgement
- Spend some time with your loved and dear ones and let them understand that their presence has worth.
- Say something nice in the day. An appraisal can make anyone happy.
- Maintain communication about any problem or issue instead of keeping quiet or resorting to violence
- Take initiative to know what is happening in the other person’s life, it makes them feel valued
- If someone says they are distressed, make sure you are there to listen to them. Check if they feel or think about suicide/self-harm
- If you feel that you are inadequately equipped to handle the situation, please seek help from a therapist or psychiatrist- they are professionals who can handle the situation better
What are the things that you can do to keep your mental health sound?
- Always have time for yourself even if it is just 15-20 minutes in a day.
- Do something you like
- Take a break from your routine to rejuvenate yourself
- Engage in a physical exercise
- Eat and sleep well
- Consume moderate amounts of alcohol
- Avoid smoking and consuming other such substances
- Engage in social activities
Mental health is everyone’s business and we must all take responsibility for our mental health.
“Your illness does not define you. Your strength does.”
Written by Pragya Lodha
Associate of Programme, The MINDS Foundation, Vadodara (Gujarat)