‘Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of but stigma and bias shame us all’- Bill Clinton
Individuals with good mental health are described as being in a state of well- being. Positive mental health includes emotion, cognition, and social functioning and coherence. (WHO: 2009). Mental illnesses present themselves in varies forms from anxiety to suicidal thought, affecting other aspects of life such as health, social life and work.
A psychiatrist is a doctor, as much as an endocrinologist is and their services are as accessible too. However, for a diabetic patient, it’s much easier to seek help compared to a mental illness patient. When we think about health we tend to separate mental and physical health, forgetting that mental health controls our physical health and vice versa. Anxiety is one well known mental illness. Innumerable people have been anxious for a few seconds at least once in their lives. It is associated with, increased heart rate, chest pain and restlessness. A continuous state of anxiety can lead to increased chances of acquiring various chronic physical illnesses such as heart attacks, diabetes and a weakened immune system; illnesses that can be prevented if the core, the mental illness is treated. Furthermore, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Not only does a mental illness affect body but also affects various aspects of life such as the quality of work leading to economic losses.
For many years, people focused on genetics and neurotransmitters as being the major cause of mental illnesses, where this is true, recent studies have identified that the environment has a great impact on mental health. The general breakdown of causes of mental disorders is;
- Biological; genetically inherited, brain defects or infection by certain bacteria or viruses
- Psychological; emotional/ physical/ sexual abuse, trauma, family violence
- Environmental; death of a loved one, substance abuse, romantic failures
Everyone experiences days where they are low or upset but a few surpass the fine line and develop a more serious mental illness. The normalization of some mental health disorders has desensitized us from it severity. ’I feel depressed’, ‘I just want to kill myself’- these are phrases we say or hear often when people are low or stressed. It has become so common that we can’t identify when people are actually suffering from the condition. Depression isn’t merely a feeling; it is a struggle. A fight every day to try and find reason for existence.
For several years there has been a negative attitude towards mental illnesses in some cultures and societies encouraging stigma towards those who are courageous enough to admit they have a mental illness. Despite one out of four people suffering from a mental illness, many remain undiagnosed due to the fear of discrimination and are unable to seek assistance despite there being many several professionals present. Sadly, it is still associated mental illness with curses, evil spirits and witchcraft in some societies. The ‘taboo’ is more prominent in African cultures. For so long mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression have been considered ‘white man’ diseases.
Patients who resist seeking attention from professionals tend to ‘self-medicate’ using other methods such as substance abuse and self-mutualisation. These mechanisms provide temporary relief from the uncomfortable symptoms but eventually place the user at risk of mental health illness. An area of the brain known as the hippocampus that is associated with emotion, stress control and long term memory gets impaired, making it that much harder for a patient to recover during treatment. On one hand people take drugs to escape depression, anxiety while on the other hand there are those taking drugs just for recreational purposes, therein resulting in self-inflicted mental health conditions. Patients with both a substance abuse problem and mental illness are said to have a co-occurring disorder.
In some cases, patients from low-middle income countries and regions, willing to seek assistance are unable to do so due to the lack of resources such as mental health services and human resources (psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, psychologists, etc.). 800,000! That is the estimated number of people that commit suicide annually between the ages of 15-29 globally according to the WHO, rate being higher in men more than women. This is because women are more open to seeking help or discussing their issues with others compared to the men. Furthermore, having a combination of mental illnesses increases the likelihood of suicide attempts.
Mental health is the fundamental basis of a good healthy community and therefore deserves a significant amount of attention rather than prejudice. Everyone has a part to play in the mental health of family members, friends and communities health by being more mindful and attentive to them. As a society we should create an environment where an individual is comfortable enough to express their feelings preventing progression of their condition.
‘We need to be allowed to fall apart’ – Selena Gomez