Are You Healthy . . . Men­tally?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

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)

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