Of Mental Health
Written By Phillipa A. Brown
When talking about mental illness, it typically refers to a condition that can significantly affect how a person thinks, feels, behaves and interacts with others. It might be helpful to think about mental health on a spectrum, where on one end of the spectrum, someone is considered to be mentally healthy and on the other end, someone may be considered mentally ill. However, along this spectrum, anyone could be dealing with a mood, thought or behavioural disturbance that may be impacting their life at some point. Mental health is a continuum and people could fall anywhere on this spectrum, but it’s important to know that wherever anyone sits on this spectrum, people are able to cope and live fulfilling lives.
Mental health problems have historically been shrouded by stigma where mental illness was heavily skewed in a negative light and often discriminated against socially. The reason for the stigmatisation issues was simply due to people not understanding mental illness through a lack of education and awareness. Stigma can have a profound effect on the lives of those affected in a range of ways. The damaging effects of stigma can cause discouragement of help-seeking, create isolation, make recovery harder and promote discrimination. In more recent years, through education, advocation and awareness, stigmatisation problems have been significantly reduced and attitudes are slowly improving. However, there are still some common misconceptions that surround mental health problems. Below are five common misconceptions about mental health and mental illness:
MYTH #1: I can never be affected by mental illness
Fact: Anyone can be affected by mental illness at any point in their lifetime, it does not discriminate between age, gender, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity. In fact, statistics outlined by WHO show that almost half the population will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. Anyone can experience a difficult period in their life due to a myriad of reasons. However, people have varying ways of coping with life stresses, which could be the difference between finding a resolution or perpetuating it further. Through education and awareness, people are getting better at identifying life stress and seeking to resolve it early on, rather than ignoring it and leading to a decline in mental health over time. In saying that, it’s important to know that not everyone has to experience life stress to be affected by mental illness, but the same rule applies in that identifying signs and symptoms and seeking intervention early on will be more effective in how much or little it impacts your life.
MYTH #2: It is impossible to recover from mental illness.
Fact: There are numerous readily available treatment options, care systems, programs, and medications enabling people to treat mental health issues across the spectrum of disorders. Like other illnesses, treatment requires commitment, time, and resources. Most people with mental health issues recover just as patients with other illnesses do. However, treatment sometimes does not work similarly to other illnesses like diabetes or the flu. Although mental illnesses may require complex treatments, it does not imply that mental health conditions are impossible to treat. In some cases, a reduction in symptoms and the ability to manage a lifetime condition where one can live a happy and fulfilling life is certainly attainable.
MYTH #3: People are to blame for their mental illness
Fact: The cause of mental illness is complex and could best be explained by the biopsychosocial model, which suggests that causation comes from a variety of different biological, psychological and environmental factors that are developed individually or in combination over the lifespan. Stemming from such a complex system, it’s no wonder people have a difficult time understanding where mental illnesses come from. People are not to blame for their mental illness but rather, various influences outside of one’s control through genetic make-up, experiences and environmental factors are reasons that people develop mental health issues.
MYTH #4: People with mental illness are incapable
Fact: Sometimes, people with mental health issues may encounter challenges working just like people with physical illnesses. This does not mean they are incapable or incompetent but rather, if left untreated may cause some difficulties with maintaining daily stress. Nonetheless, there are millions of people working every day that suffer from mental illness who thrive in the workplace and find that working or volunteering actually increases their mental health. Mental illness does not decrease intelligence or emotional quota, nor does it reduce one’s ability to follow structure and routine. Similar to people with physical illnesses, people with mental health issues, when treated, work exceptionally well.
MYTH #5 People suffering from Mental Health issues prefer to be alone.
Fact: It is common for people who are suffering from mental health issues to feel less inclined to reach out to others. When someone is feeling low, they might not be feeling themselves. As a result, it might be difficult for them to uphold plans they made when they were feeling good. A sudden change or cancellation of plans can be hurtful and frustrating to some people, but chances are that the person suffering from mental health issues is feeling worse. The truth is, they don’t want to let people down and they don’t mean to, and they certainly don’t want you to take it personally. Instead of feeling hurt and frustrated by the sudden change of plans, try reaching out to them and ensuring they are OK. A bit of curiosity and understanding as to why someone continues to cancel plans could be helpful in identifying their need for help.
Some common signs and symptoms of mental health issues:
- Feeling sad or down
- Reduced ability to concentrate
- Extreme mood changes
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Changes in appetite – increased or decreased
- Significant periods of tiredness and sleeping, or insomnia
- Inability to cope with daily issues
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Suicidal thoughts
- Excessive fear or worry
- Problems with substance use
- Excessive anger hostility or violence
Early intervention in the initial stages of a mental health issue have been shown to significantly improve the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. If you notice any signs or symptoms in yourself or a loved one, get in touch with a mental health professional. The best place to start is by visiting your local GP. If you have noticed signs and symptoms in a loved one, encourage them to seek help and check in with them regularly.
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