Mental Health: Let’s do a little and make a big difference

[ Poona Baja ]

Often many feelings are unexpressed, emotions are unnoticed, voices unheard, actions neglected, behaviour misunderstood and problems left unaddressed. These are a few familiar situations that persons dealing with mental health-related issues may come across.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Report, 2011 showed that about 450 million people are living with mental disorders globally and that mental disorders are among the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide. In spite of its wide prevalence and severity, how many of us are really aware of mental health and related issues? How many of us reach out for help and get the required help? Why is access to mental health needs far challenging than other health-related issues?

Mental health is imperative to our overall well-being. It includes our emotions, cognition, behaviour and others. The WHO defines mental health as a state of well being in which every individual realizes his or her potential; can cope with normal stresses of life; can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her/ his community.

Different categories of mental disorder are mood disorder (Mania, depression, bipolar affective disorder), thought disorder (Schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), anxiety disorder, substance abuse (excess use and dependency on alcohol, psychoactive drugs, illegal drugs etc.).

A person suffering from mental health disorder may experience fear, sometimes extreme unknown fear; repeated disturbing thoughts; heightened emotion or no emotion; staying aloof and sad; losing interest in things that she/ he previously enjoyed; uncontrollable anger, violent behaviour, doubtful, hallucinate and show delusional behaviour.

It is important to be aware that mental health does not mean the absence of mental disorders only.

Many day-to-day issues related to work, home, relationship, worry, indecisiveness, academic demands, adapting to new roles of life, adolescence’s problems and an endless number of circumstances can lead to varying amounts of pressure and stress on different individuals at different levels.

What seems trivial to someone may be of great importance to another. Different people react in different ways; their emotion levels are different; the way they perceive things are totally unique and managing and coping with these situations are also part of the broader realm of mental health.

Mental, neurological and substance disorders together account for 13 percent of the global disease burden (WHO, 2012).

Depression and anxiety affect a person’s productivity and costs US $ 1 trillion on the global economy every year. Suicide, the second most leading cause of death among the age group of 15 to 29 years is often associated with a mental disorder.

Every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide and 80,000 people die annually by committing suicide more than people dying by war and homicide put together (WHO, 2018).

In spite of this scale of severity, mental health issues are majorly left unaddressed and untreated. Especially in developing and underdeveloped countries, 75 percent of people living with mental disorders receive no treatment at all. And the reasons are lack of awareness, inability to identify, non-acceptance from oneself and others and majorly because of stigma and fear of discrimination.

It becomes very important for the society to be aware of mental health and related issues. We need to know that it can happen to anyone for the illness does not discriminate. Identifying these issues at an early stage is of utmost importance, as is addressing them, supporting each other in reaching out and getting access to necessary professional help on time and in making this issue free of stigma and discrimination.

Keeping in view the importance of mental health as an indispensable component of overall health and the needs related to the issue, the theme this year for World Mental Health Day (10th October) is ‘Mental Health for all. Greater investment-greater access. Everyone, everywhere.’

Especially in the present Covid-19 situation worldwide, maintaining one’s mental health has become extremely challenging. Loved ones lost, infected with the disease, jobs lost, poverty, unemployment, overburden at work (e.g. health care workers, police personnel and others), for others fear of contracting the disease and concern for closed ones particularly who are vulnerable.

Prolonged indoor stay during the lockdown has given rise to many psychological issues, such as an increase in reports of domestic violence. Feeling under pressure is quite normal in such situations but what is important is the ability to manage the stress by learning to adapt to the new ways of life as required and not letting stress hamper our daily functioning. One should remember that stress is a part of everyday life but what is important is the ability to manage stress and carry on one’s normal functioning and reaching out for help at the right time when required.

The pandemic has particularly become difficult for people with mental health issues. But pandemic or no pandemic, this group is always vulnerable. So as a family, friend, community, it is our responsibility that we support them, help them in reaching and seeking professional help at right time.

In our state, we have hospitals and other organisations, including non – governmental organization working in this field. And one such hospital is the mental health centre at Midpu in Papum Pare district. The hospital is exclusively dedicated to providing mental health services. It provides for both OPD and Indoor service facilities for mental health-related issues. There are full-time psychiatrists, medical officers, psychiatric social workers, a psychologist, nurses and other staffs catering to the needs of both outdoor and indoor patients. Consultation with psychiatrists, counselling and various other therapies are provided as per the need of an individual patient as part of the treatment.

Along with medications prescribed by the doctors, psychosocial support is very crucial. It does not end with consulting a psychiatrist or other mental health professionals and so our roles as a family, friend and community also become important. What they need is kindness, compassion, communication, attentive listening, empathy not sympathy. Creating an environment for them to open up is the way.

With love and support, the access to health care needs get easier and recovery is often sooner. As an individual, providing care should start with us, opening up about our problems, communicating to trusted ones and shedding inhibitions. One has to learn to trust and come forward.

Little changes in our habits and routine can help us go a long way, like eating a balanced nutritious diet, adequate sleep, maintaining a routine, physical exercise, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, walk in parks and indulging oneself in healthy recreational activities like games and sports, hobbies (painting, reading, etc). Avoid the use of alcohol and other psychoactive substances.

Maintaining a diary and try understanding one’s difficult emotions, make a note of things that you are grateful for and interact with family and people around you. It is necessary to remember that everyone has limitations and that it is okay to fail at times and feel low. But not letting such situations define us and try coping with them is again more important.

Collective care and getting access to mental health care need is the way forward. It is time we learn that mental health is not a luxury but our responsibility; a responsibility towards ourselves and others. Mental Health is a long-distance race; a continuous process. It continues as long as one’s life. It is a part of our daily lives.

Often we fail to see the impact of our words, actions, attitudes towards others. Nevertheless, they can have an impeding effect or uplift, someone, in ways. So together we can make a big difference among us and in the world. This much is so much!

(The contributor is a psychiatric social worker at the Midpu Mental Health Centre.)