What is Mental Health ?
Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of mental, including cognitive and physical well-being in which individuals have the ability to realize their potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and are able to make contributions to their community.
In other words, with mental health on one’s side, a person and their loved ones are confident about applying their mind in everyday life. From this, emerges a sense of stability and security that the person is safe, managing tasks and bears the ability to achieve positive actions.
What is Mental Illness?
A mental illness refers to a range of health conditions and disorders that significantly affect how a person feels, thinks, behaves and interacts with other people. ‘Mental illness’ is a general term that refers to a group of illnesses of the mind, in the same way that heart disease refers to a group of illnesses and disorders affecting the heart. According to the WHO, ‘health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ Mental health is the foundation for individual well-being and effective functioning of a community.
Most people believe that mental disorders are rare and “happen to someone else." In fact, mental disorders are common and widespread. Most families are not prepared to cope when they learn that 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 that there is hope and help. Effective treatment and recovery is possible for a range of mental illnesses.
Irrespective of the cause or stressor of the problem, people affected require compassion, care and understanding to be able to improve their condition and lead productive lives. What is crucial to building self-esteem and recovery, but often missing in this scenario is the support of family, friends and employees.
It is diagnosed according to standardised criteria. Common mental health problems include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Violence and substance abuse
- Children and adults with special needs
When does a mental health concern become a mental illness?
Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect the person’s ability to function. A mental health problem interferes with how a person thinks, feels, and behaves and may not necessarily qualify as a mental illness.
Mental health problems are common and include small bouts of ill health that can be experienced temporarily as a reaction to certain untoward events or to the stresses of life. They are less severe than mental illness, could be episodic but could develop into mental illness if not effectively dealt with. In some cases, the distinction between mental health problems and mental illness isn't as clear-cut. If you're afraid of giving a speech in public, does it mean you have a mental illness or simply a run-of-the-mill case of nerves? If you feel sad and discouraged, are you just experiencing a low phase, or is it depression requiring medication or counseling?
A mental illness can make a person miserable and can cause problems in daily life, such as at work or in relationships. In most cases, mental illness symptoms can be managed with a combination of counselling and psychotherapy and medication.
It is no different from other health problems!
Mental health, like any other aspect of the health depends on a combination of social, psychological, biological and environmental factors. There are also specific personality factors that make people vulnerable to mental disorders. Biological causes of mental disorders include genetic factors and imbalances of chemicals in the brain. Just as functioning abilities of other organs in the body vary from person to person and from time to time, so does the brain!
Poor mental health is also associated with rapid social change or untoward events, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, risks of violence, physical ill-health and human rights violations. For example, persistent socio-economic pressures of poverty and low levels of education have been recognized as contributors to ill mental health of individuals and communities.
Globally, more than 450 million people suffer from mental disorders. Many more have mental problems that are not diagnosed.
Prevalence of mental health problems ranges from 10 to 370 persons per 1,000 population in different parts of India.
Nearly 1.5 million people suffer from severe mental disorders and 5.7 million persons suffer from various psychiatric disorders requiring immediate help at any given point of time. This includes a population that needs continuous treatment and regular follow-up attention.
Source: Agarwal et al. Directorate General of Health Services, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India; 2003, World Health Organization
“A desire to be in charge of our own lives, a need for control, is born in each of us. It is essential to our mental health, and our success, that we take control.”
“Mental illness isn’t one uniform condition –it’s a completely different animal from HIV/AIDS. There are about 40-50 different conditions that beset people, characterized by some basic dysfunction in the brain which can be diagnosed by a specialist health care provider. Of these, 20-25 are major diseases.”
- - Dr. Vikram Patel, Senior Lecturer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (www.lshtm.ac.uk) and Chairperson, The Sangath Society, Goa