Happy New Year to all! I hope you had a wonderful, safe, happy and healthy Christmas. I am wishing us all the same as we begin our journey into 2019. It seems opportune to begin this column in the New Year as I mean to go on which is by highlighting and bringing as much awareness to the issue of mental health as I possibly can. It is not a subject to fear. It is a subject we should engage in conversation about with one another.
It is a subject we should try to explore, particularly with regard to how we or loved ones might be affected. Knowledge is power. We are regularly given advice about our physical health. We are told we should look after our bodies to avoid certain ailments. Well, the same is true about our mental health, which is massively under siege in our world today. Our lives are under incredible stress which is impacting on our physical as well as mental health.
Since I started writing this column, which is around eight years or thereabouts, I have been asked a variety of questions on the subject of mental health from readers. The questions have slowly increased and over the past couple of years have increased dramatically. Many readers are now telling their stories about their experiences with mental health issues. I urge you in 2019 to continue asking those questions and more. Mental health truly matters! There have been certain questions that have appeared repeatedly. Below is a cross-section of the questions:
What is mental health?
We all have mental health which is made up of our beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviours
What is mental illness and how does it appear?
Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feelings, moods, ability to relate to others, the quality of life and daily functioning. In the same way specific illnesses are related to certain parts of the body; mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.
Mental illnesses are biologically based brain disorders. They cannot be overcome through sheer ‘will power’, or false pseudo religious promises and activities. People are not affected because of their ‘character’, or because they have been ‘cursed’, or because of their intelligence.
Mental illnesses can affect people of any age, religion, race, or income. Some of the more common but serious disorders include depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, and personality disorders. The symptoms that accompany these conditions may include personality changes, mood alterations, and changes in personal habits as well as a withdrawal from social activities.
Mental ill health can affect anyone at any stage in their life, depending on their circumstances. However, research has shown that mental health problems tend to suddenly come on with adolescence and with the elderly.
What are the causes of mental health problems and illness?
There is not any exact cause that can be identified. However, research is showing that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
Some mental illnesses have been linked to abnormal balance of special chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. These help nerve cells in the brain to communicate with each other. If the chemicals are out of balance, or not working well, messages will not be transmitted to the brain correctly, leading to chaos in the brain.
Other biological factors that could lead to mental illness include:
Genetics: There are many mental illnesses that run in families which could make members susceptible, so they need to be self aware and have insight and knowledge of their own mental well being and what their ‘triggers’ might be.
Infections: Certain infections have been linked to brain damage and the subsequent development or worsening of mental illness. Brain defects or brain injuries have been linked to the onset of mental illness.
Prenatal damage: There is some medical evidence that suggests that trauma that occurs at the time of birth, such as loss of oxygen could lead to some later problems such as autism.
There is also some research that has shown poor nutrition and exposures to toxins such as lead, may play a role in the development of mental illnesses.
Severe psychological trauma suffered as a child, things such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
An early bereavement such as the loss of a parent
Neglect and the ability to relate to others
There are certain factors or what is referred to as stressors that can trigger mental ill health, especially in a person who is susceptible. These triggers could include:
Death or divorce
A dysfunctional family life
Living in poverty
Feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety, anger or loneliness
Social or cultural expectations
How common is mental illness?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is reported by experts that mental illnesses are very common, even more than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.
Can mental illness be prevented?
Most mental illnesses are caused by a combination of factors and cannot be prevented
Can you be cured from mental illness?
Most people who are diagnosed early and receive appropriate treatment will respond well and live productive lives. Many people even manage not to have a recurrence of the problem, although some might if, especially if experience their stressors.
What are the symptoms or warning signs of mental illness?
Long lasting sadness or irritability
Extreme highs and lows in mood
Excessive fear, worrying or anxiety
Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
Strong feelings of anger
Delusions or hallucinations
Increasing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
Thought of suicide
Denial of obvious problems
Many unexplained physical problems (stomach pains, headaches, pains in the body etc)
Abuse of alcohol/drugs
In older children and preteens:
Abuse of drugs and alcohol
Inability to cope with daily problems and activities
Changes in sleeping or eating habits
Excessive complaints of physical problems
Defying authority, skipping school, stealing or damaging property
Long lasting negative mood, suicidal thoughts
Frequent outbursts of anger
In much younger children:
Frequent temper tantrums
Persistent disobedience and aggressive behaviour
Worrying excessively and extreme anxiety
Very poor concentration and disruptive in school
What should I do if I’m worried about myself, a friend or family member?
The most important thing is to talk to someone you trust. This could be a friend, colleague, family member or doctor. If it’s someone you are worried about, let them know you care about them and you are not judging them. Don’t assume or think you can talk them out of it or expect them to get over it. Gently encourage the person to talk to a family member who will be sympathetic, or if they have access to a professional.
Some of the information in this column was sourced from The National Alliance on Mental Illness, transforming mental health through research.
The content is only meant for informational purposes alone and should not be used to diagnose any illness. If you feel you or anyone you know are affected, you should seek a suitable professional.
Next week we will look at mental health in the work place. This is an area that is totally overlooked. Continue to send in your experiences and I will be sharing some in the column.
Most people believe that mental disorders are rare and “happen to someone else.” In fact, mental disorders are common and widespread. An estimated 54 million Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder in a given year.
Most families are not prepared to cope with learning their loved one has a mental illness. It can be physically and emotionally trying, and can make us feel vulnerable to the opinions and judgments of others.
If you think you or someone you know may have a mental or emotional problem, it is important to remember there is hope and help.
What is mental illness?
A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines.
There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. Some of the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal.
Mental health problems may be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation or series of events. As with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, mental illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological. Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these. With proper care and treatment many individuals learn to cope or recover from a mental illness or emotional disorder.