What is mental health?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities and can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her life.
Mental health.gov defines mental health to include our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Mental health is important to every stage of our lives, from childhood, adolescence through adulthood.
Over the course of our lives, you will experience a range of mental health problems. Your thinking, mood and behaviour could be affected by these problems, as many factors contribute to mental health problems. What is a mental health disorder or mental illness? Mental health disorders are serious conditions which can affect your thinking, mood and behaviour.
They may be occasional or long-lasting, and this can affect your ability to relate to others and function each day. Mental health disorders or illnesses are common: more than half of Americans will be diagnosed with one at some time in their life. But there are treatments, and people with mental health disorders can get better, and many of them recover completely.
Another definition says it like this: A mental illness is a physical illness of the brain that causes disturbances in thinking, behaviour, energy or emotion that makes it difficult to cope with the ordinary demands of life. It’s very important to differentiate between the two. Mental health is the state of being healthy with one’s emotions, thoughts and behavior, and mental illness is when your emotions, thoughts and behaviour are disrupted by a serious brain condition.
Factors that contribute to mental health disorders and illness include biological factors such as genes or brain chemistry, brain structure, life experiences such as traumas and/or abuse, or family history of mental health illness. Others are lifestyle issues such as diet, physical activity and substance abuse, or having another medical condition such as heart disease.
There are two common mental health conditions.
These include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder (Panic Attacks), Generalised Anxiety Disorders and phobias. More than 18% of adults suffer from any of the above disorders each year.
These include depression and bipolar depression. About 10% of adults each year are affected by mood disorders, which are recognised by difficulties in regulating one’s mood. The importance of mental health awareness and mental health disorders or illness affect 19% of the adult population, 46% of teenagers, and 13% of children each year.
People struggling with mental illnesses may be in your family, friends group, co-workers, church members, etc. Only half of those affected get treatment, often because of the stigma attached to mental health.
Untreated mental illnesses can contribute to higher medical expenses, poorer performance at work or school, fewer employment opportunities and increased suicide risks. In our communities, especially the black community, there is a lot of stigma around mental health or mental illnesses. A child tells their parents that they think they are depressed, and the child is told to get over it and that therapy is white people’s thing, and that we are strong and can handle it. But sometimes we really can’t handle it.
There are consequences to the stigma, mainly reluctance to getting treated, a lack of understanding by family members, friends and the community, and bullying. This can lead to the belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges, or that you can’t improve your situation.
Steps to cope with stigma
Get Treatment: Don’t let the stigma paralyse you into getting treatment. Treatment can identify what is wrong, and reduce the symptoms that hinder your work and life. Talk therapy is a great way to help with some mental health illnesses like depression and anxiety.
Don’t isolate yourself: When you have a mental illness, don’t hesitate to tell the people close to you that you trust. The support they will provide will help you get through the hard times ahead because you can’t always control what goes on in your head.
Don’t make your illness your identity: You are not the illness, you just have the illness, so instead of saying “I am depressed”, say “I have depression”. Instead of saying “I am bipolar”, say “I have bipolar”. You and the illness are separate, and you also have to believe it in order for you to get better.
Join a support group: Joining a group will help reduce the stigma as you get to see that you are not the only one suffering from this type of illness, and sharing your experience with people who are going through the same thing has been scientifically proven to improve the outcome.
Speak out against stigma:as you are on these journeys, you will learn a lot, and it is your duty to educate as many people as you can about mental health in your friend circles, family and in the community. This will create an understanding and reduce mental health stigma.
A lot of judgements about mental illnesses stem from a place of lack of understanding and lack of information.
We need to disperse the correct information in order to liberate our nation from stigma, because let me make it clear: mental health or illness does not mean crazy and that the person has to go to the psychiatric ward.