Empire State of Mind: Let's talk about Mental Health.
Here are some things everyone should know about Mental Health.
(Authored by Hakim)
Mental illness as we know it, has always been with us, although rarely discussed.
However, with the outbreak of the novel COVID19, new stressors have indeed been foisted on our minds, as millions of people try to cope with the economic downturn, loss of jobs, anxiety, depression, social isolation etc. It is clear that we may be facing a looming mental health crisis.
Mental health is a big deal, but COVID19 may have made it bigger, so why not talk about it?
What is Health?
The W.H.O defines health as 'a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of a disease.' So, it's obvious from this definition that mental well-being is as important as physical well-being.
So why do we pay less attention to our mental health?
Imagine you were a doctor and a patient comes to you with a broken bone, you will try to treat the bone with a splint or a brace, and then send the person home. Physically, the patient is now on their way to recovery. However, with mental health, the signs aren't so evident, and we may not notice visible changes in someone that's got mental health issues, as it is more subtle and needs some tact to detect. But, much as a doctor heals the tendons of s broken bone, people with mental illnesses need constant counseling, love, care, support and time to heal.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's track back for a bit.
What is mental health anyway?
The W.H.O defines mental health as '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 their community.'
The W.H.O further says that multiple social, psychological, and biological factors determine a person's level of mental health at any given point in time. This is important because it is vital to note that mental disorders can have an underlying biological/ genetic cause.
Knowing this will help dissuade people from thinking that an individual who suffers from mental health is to blame for his or her own ailment. This is the bane of discrimination and stigmatization.
There are numerous types/signs of mental illness, recognizing and understanding these signs are as important to the person who might exhibit them, as it is to the people who are in a position to help that person. Some of these signs may include:
Mood disorders (such as depression and bipolar disorders)
Psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia)
Trauma related disorders (such as PTSD)
Substance abuse disorders etc.
These signs are usually evident to the keen observer, and it is an indication that we should step in at that point to remind that person that they matter, to tell them there is still reason to hope , to assure that they are loved despite their imperfections, because we are all imperfect, and more importantly, to let them know that it's okay not to be okay.
Stigmatization and Mental Health.
Many people with serious mental illnesses face a double challenge.
On the one hand, they have to contend and manage the disorder, on the other hand, they have to contend with people's perception of their conditions. These perceptions are, more often than not, misconceived.
Underlying this prejudice is the irrational fear and avoidance of a mentally ill individual, or the erroneous belief that the person who suffers from mental illness is to be blamed for their condition.
There's a general notion that mental illness is for those who do not have a strong will. But we now know that mental illness has a multifaceted cause. There could be an underlying genetic factor, that our emotional strength to deal with the stress and trauma life throws our way is different, just as we are different individuals.
It may be insensitive to overburden someone who is already burdened, and we stigmatize the mentally ill when we avoid rendering our help to them. This is the time to educate and sensitize ourselves on the concept of mental illness and health. We should seek to understand and empathize with the people having these mental conditions because nothing dismantles the stigmatization against a concept as quickly as acquiring knowledge about that concept.
So, let us learn, educate, and enlighten, in doing so, make the world a better place for the mentally for people with mental disorders.
All diseases have a terminal stage, and for mental illness the terminal stage is suicidal ideation. Suicidal thoughts bubbles up to the surface, when the individual is overwhelmed with that which plagues their mind. Needless to say, this is a critical phase because if left unchecked, it can easily lead to death.
According to the W.H.O there are about 800,000 deaths every year as a result of suicide. Every 40 seconds, a person dies from suicide. It is one of the leading causes of death among the young, those aged 15-29. So, in educating people about mental illness, we should also pay attention to this demographic.
There's something heartbreaking about someone dying before they'd even had a chance to live, but the sad truth is, the young are often more susceptible to self harm once assailed by life's tragedies.
It is important to talk to the young about mental health, inquire about how they are feeling. The reflex response of 'I am fine' shouldn't end a conversation. So, when they say that they are fine, inquire more, because it might just need a little nudge to talk. It is also important to reassure them that it is okay not to be okay. This might seem like a small gesture, but it is very affirming. We all need to know our feelings are validated, and we all need to be reassured of our place and our purpose in the world.
It is also noteworthy to talk about the profound effect of the COVID19 pandemic on mental health Whatever fears we may have had has been compounded by a virus that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives leaving the world in shock and despair. Social seclusion has left us with no other option than to deal with our emotional troubles alone, and without the comfort and company of our loved ones.
Many are going through their darkest times, and understandably so, because we now feel like we have no one to talk to. However, it is equally important that we consider an avenue to thrive and fill ourselves with hope and optimism.
So, if you are feeling overwhelmed and concerned about your mental health, here's a few things in can do:
Talk to someone.
It is true that people need people, and we have different challenges in our lives. However, talking to someone (a counselor, friend, loved one) that you can trust, can greatly ease how we feel. Sometimes, we all need a listening ear. So, when you are feeling low, you can reach out to people that care about you via video and phone calls.
Be active/Mindful exercises
When you are feeling down and out, it may be easy to dwell in that state of general jadedness and sink further into self-pity. However, engaging in exercises, yoga, and meditation are sure ways to pick yourself up, and are powerful tools for recovery. Exercises have been proven to be as effective as medications to aid your mental health, and yoga and meditation have numerous benefits on your physical and mental health. You can start with a 10-minute stroll outside your house.
Do the things you love.
Performing tasks that energizes, motivates and makes you feel good are a sure way to help you feel better. By simply performing simple productive tasks that you enjoy (writing, reading, scheduling, talking to someone etc), you greatly increase your chances of being in a better state of mind.
You cannot underestimate the role food plays on our mental health. You should always aim to eat healthy foods, and avoid those that have adverse effects on your brain and mood. Try to avoid alcohol, caffeine, processed foods with high preservatives, and instead opt for more organic fresh foods.
The journey to attain and maintain good mental health is one we must constantly talk about with those that are close to us, as it will help us understand empathy, love, care, and a general sense of belonging among all people. So, let's try to always talk about Mental Health Awareness.
Building mental resilience amidst a pandemic is not easy but let us seek comfort in knowing that we are not alone. While we continue to care for those around us, we shouldn’t forget to set aside some time to practice self-care as well.
While the pandemic is not within our control, coming together as a society to manage the mental health crisis is very much so!
(If you found this article helpful, do reach out to the author Hakim to share with him what's going on in your life).