Are You Healthy . . . Mentally?
Each year, the global community coalesces to commemorate World Mental Health Day. On this day, which this year falls on October 10, international, regional and local organisations seek to raise awareness of mental health issues using myriad promotional strategies. A major objective of this World Federation of Mental Health initiative is to eventually eradicate the ostensibly perpetual stigma attached to mental illness. To achieve this goal though, the horse must come before the cart and a basic understanding of ‘mental health’ and its relation to ‘mental illness’ is paramount. What then does it mean to be mentally healthy? A definition gleaned from the World Health Organisation indicates that mental health is “a state of well-being”. An individual has achieved this ‘state of wellbeing’ if he or she is able to: 1. realize his or her own abilities 2. cope with the normal stresses of life 3. work productively and fruitfully 4. make a contribution to his or her community.
Also included in this definition of mental health is “the absence of a mental disorder”. In psychological terms, mental disorders or mental illnesses are clinically significant behavioural or psychological syndromes or patterns, the consequences of which engender distress or disability such as a painful symptom or impairment in one or more important areas of functioning. Simply put, a mental disorder can be ascertained and categorised via careful observation of an individual’s behaviour over a period of time. These behaviours must deviate from habitual behavioural norms and should be significant enough to subsequently affect the individual’s ability to effectively function at school, at work, and/ or in relationships with peers and spouses.
Of pertinence is the ability to detect mental disorders. Some mental disorders are triggered by situational events such as the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, increasing economical challenges, the termination of a romantic relationship or even an animal attack. Each of these situations requires specific coping mechanisms. Many individuals, however, are unable to successfully manage the stress associated with these life challenges and hence their thought patterns change. Ideas and much of their speech content become negative and pessimistic. These negative thought patterns give rise to changes in mood and emotions, and ultimately significant alterations in behaviour. For example, the individual who has suddenly become unemployed may be consumed with thoughts regarding his or her financial future and the economic wellbeing of their family. These thoughts may fester and soon become self-pervading, eliciting fear, excessive worry and concern, guilt and even anger. Subsequently, this individual is unable to sleep, loses their appetite or engages in binge eating, is unable to concentrate on tasks or becomes withdrawn. Communicating with this individual may also become difficult due to his or her capricious temperament and fluctuating mood. Hypervigilance is also common. In many cases, excessive worry manifests itself physiologically in the form of chest pains, sweaty palms, racing heart beats and feelings of dizziness. Detecting a mental disorder therefore requires observation and monitoring. Make a note of the contents of one’s thoughts and the emotions that follow, then list the behavioural changes that occur. If these changes significantly stymie social and occupational functioning and persist over a period of time, it is advised to consult a health professional.
It is important to note that mental disorders exist along a continuum. Just as physical illnesses range from mild to severe, for example the common cold versus the H1N1 Swine Flu Virus, so too do mental illnesses. Additionally, mental illness, as with physical injuries, occurs irrespective of one’s social stratum, economic background, intellectual fortitude, financial prowess, academic accolades, physical aesthetics, political affiliation and area of abode. ‘Mental injury’ can happen to anyone and requires attention from an expert in the field. If left unchecked, mental illness will inadvertently lead to mental immobility.
PsyDA Consultancy (pronounced ‘Cider’) provides psychological services including individual and family psychotherapy, psychological evaluations and assessments, counselling and forensic consultations. Contact 727-1490 for weekend appointments.
Ms. Ginelle Nelson Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Managing Director (PsyDA Consultancy Ltd)