Mental health refers to cognitive, behavioural, and emotional well-being. It is all about how people think, feel, and behave. Having good mental health helps in leading a relatively happy and healthy life, it helps in demonstrating resilience and facing the adversities of life. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. People sometimes use the term “mental health” to mean the absence of a mental disorder however, it is not just the absence of mental health problems rather it refers to the presence of positive characteristics. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Mental health is an integral and essential component of health. The WHO constitution states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” An important implication of this definition is that mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. It is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Millions of people around the globe live with various types of mental illness and mental health problems, such as social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, drug addiction, and personality disorders.
One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders, says the World Health Organization (WHO). Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding. Where there is no understanding, there is neglect.
When depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or any other mental illness strikes a family, the emotional costs tend to be high, putting all the members under tremendous strain. They will be in need of expert help to learn how to support and encourage their loved one, and cope with the range of symptoms and behaviours associated with the illness. Whether the situation revolves around an adult child with bipolar disorder or a teen with sky-high anxiety refusing to attend school or a spouse having severe symptoms of schizophrenia but refusing to take medications, the whole family is affected. Since mental illnesses often have a ‘ripple effect’ on families they create tension, uncertainty, troubled emotions and lead to big changes in the lifestyles of the people involved. Different family members are likely to be affected in different ways, almost all feel perplexed and are seen struggling to offer support and trying their best to comprehend the resulting scenario. However, most times they do this without a compass and without any clear directions as to the most effective approach. Thus, many may not know the most effective thing to say or do and different family members may respond in different ways to the same situation. Some may be naturally good at it; some average and some inadequate. A lot has to do with their understanding of the illness and how well informed they are about it. Unfortunately, most people have preconceived notions about mental illness that include strong beliefs about it being a weakness, a character flaw, or the misconception that the individual with the illness is lazy or is not trying hard enough. These deeply ingrained views are hard to confront, and are not helpful to the patient when in the midst of an episode.
Oftentimes, the affected person feels that his family or friends just don’t understand it him or think that what bothers him is unimportant and trivial. He may feel dismissed or that his concerns and emotions are not valid; he thus may need repeated reassurance that he’s being heard or listened to. Advising him to “pull yourself together” or “get over it” or “read something over a cup of coffee” are neither helpful nor desirable. Belittling the suffering of the patient in such a non-serious manner shows how little such people know of depression or anxiety as a biologic illness. Statements like these assume the individual has control over the illness, which is false. A mentally ill person has no control over the illness and this is what people who surround him need to know otherwise it gives rise to strain, resentment, arguments, and make the problem more complex. Dealing with a family member who has a mood disorder or anxiety requires a lot of effort from family members. It can at times be really exasperating and exhausting, necessitating anything from dealing with the daily distortions in thinking and behaviour, to frequent medical appointments, to added time and expenses to be devoted to the individual. Such an eventuality can be disruptive to the flow of the entire family’s routines and patterns, which is stressful over time. It may entail late night phone calls or conversations, continued concerns over their loved one’s health and wellbeing, and overhanging fear of a potential suicide attempt. When pressed, fatigued and frustrated, family members may snap out hurtful or counterproductive comments that lead to further anger and resentment.
Early identification, accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of mental health can alleviate enormous suffering for young people and their families dealing with behavioural health challenges. Providing early care can help young people to more quickly recover and benefit from their education, to develop positive relationships, to gain access to employment, and ultimately to lead more meaningful and productive lives. Major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder rarely appear “out of the blue.” Most often family, friends, teachers or individuals themselves begin to recognize small changes or a feeling that “something is not quite right” about their thinking, feelings or behaviour before an illness appears in its full-blown form. Learning about developing symptoms, or early warning signs, and taking action can help. Early intervention can help reduce the severity of an illness. It may even be possible to delay or prevent a major mental illness altogether. Being educated about the warning signs can help make detection of mental illness easier for loved ones and care givers. Below are early warning signs that a person may be suffering from mental illness.
- Changes in mood. Feelings may alter over time or all of a sudden. In addition, they can shift back and forth. For instance, feeling happy or excited one day or in a certain situation then sad or upset the next day in the same situation.
- Changes in sleep pattern. Sleeping too much with the feeling that it is impossible to get out of bed or having trouble to sleep.
- Fear or uneasiness; feeling afraid, anxious, nervous, or panicked.
- Decreased performance where work suffers and it gets harder to complete things that once were easy or enjoyable; if in school, grades may begin to drop.
- Lack of interest in certain things or people. This can lead to broad or complete withdrawal from people or events.
- Altered senses where the basic senses of sound, smell, touch, or sight become more or less sensitive.
- Lifestyle changes that may be seen in eating patterns ranging from eating more to less, or not at all.
- Troubled mind manifested in clouded thinking that makes it hard to focus, remember, or process things.
- Changes in behaviour that are contrary to the normal.
- Loss of control over the ability to manage stress, tasks, or life’s demands.
- Mental illness can cause social withdrawal and a detachment from surroundings resulting in a lost, distant, or numb feeling. Hallucinations or nightmares may also make an appearance coupled with a forgetfulness of how to relate to others or show care or concern.
- Mental illness is often accompanied by suicidal tendencies and the patient needs constant vigil in order to stop any harm coming to him.
Many people are afraid that there is no treatment for whatever mental illness they may have, so they along with their family members try to hide the symptoms and pretend nothing is wrong. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation and a lack of knowledge about mental illness and its treatment. In reality, mental illnesses can be treated and managed with evidence-based methods. A combination of behaviour therapies and medication can help people with a variety of mental disorders, and live happy lives as productive members of society. Treatment options for mental illnesses are more abundant today than they were decades ago. There is a range of treatment modalities that can be used alone or in combination to address mental illnesses of all kinds. Treatment options range from outpatient therapy for people with some skills already in place to manage their symptoms, to inpatient hospitalization for individuals who are in crisis. Most young adults with a mental illness can learn to successfully manage their symptoms and enjoy meaningful lives in their communities. Many young adults with a mental illness can finish college, enter the workforce, or contribute to causes they care about through volunteering. Effective treatment can help improve relationships young adults have with their parents, siblings, and friends. Receiving a mental health diagnosis is difficult, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams or plans for your future. With the right treatment and support, young adults can enjoy healthy, happy futures. The key lies in tapping the disease when it in the bud, so early diagnosis resulting in early treatment is invaluable.