What You Need To Know About Mental Health

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the tragic passing of stars such as Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, and more recently, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

Aside from having lost some highly successful and much loved people, what makes these disappearances more tragic is the fact that they took their own lives. In front of this alarming rate of suicides, one can’t help but wonder about mental conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or even eating disorders.

Mental Health

Mental health is quite a large topic to discuss, possibly too large for a single article. However it is necessary to learn more about mental health, especially in our current era where suicides and mental disorders increase day by day, and yet mental health awareness remains a taboo.

In this article I would like to introduce you to some facts, symptoms, risk factors and how addiction can be a symptom of mental illness, a risk factor and even a mental disorder in itself.

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” Dr Denis Waitley

This article contains:

Mental health facts

According to the WHO, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community [1]. According to the WHO still, health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity [2]. Therefore, mental health doesn’t mean the absence of mental disorders, but it means a state of complete mental wellness and fulfillment.

Mental disorders are quite common worldwide. Indeed, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide [3].

In Canada alone: In any given year, 1 in 5 people will personally experience a mental health problem or illness [4].

Mental illness symptoms

Mental illness’ symptoms can differ according to which type of mental illness we’re dealing with. Whether it’s anxious disorders, mood disorders such as depression, eating disorders, personality disorders or even psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia: both mental and physical symptoms can occur.

Mental illness can manifest on the psychological level as sadness, irritability, insomnia or oversleeping, difficulty to concentrate, a tendency to withdraw and isolate one’s self, a sudden change in behavior, a tendency to be aggressive or oppositely too passive.

Mental illness can also manifest itself with physical symptoms, such as constant fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, pains and aches that don’t seem to get better as well as muscle tension, most commonly felt as a knot in the chest.

However, it’s very important to understand and remember that most of the time, mental disorders either have poor symptoms or the person suffering from the illness is very good at pretending that nothing is wrong. This can explain how easily mental disorders can go undiagnosed and why it’s so important now more than ever to increase mental health awareness and stop the stigma and victimization surrounding it.

Mental illness risk factors

Developing a mental illness is not related to whether a person is strong or weak. It is actually thought to be caused by a variety of genetic (inner) and environmental (outer) factors.

Inner factors include: Certain genes which can manifest as hereditary mental disorders in a certain family. Inner factors can also include a chemical imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin.

-Outer factors include: stress, bullying, traumatic events especially in childhood, poor relationships and the lack of a support group, as well as dealing with a chronic condition such as diabetes or cancer.

These risk factors are important to know because they can allow us to prevent mental disorders. We can also keep our eyes on people with the said risk factors and offer them support and help if they need it.

Mental health and addiction

The case of addiction in relation to mental health is quite interesting. Addiction can be a symptom of mental illness, a risk factor and even a mental disorder in itself.

-Addiction as a symptom of mental illness: Many people dealing with mental illness or psychological pain can turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with their problems and cope with their symptoms better. This means that if a friend or relative suddenly starts drinking or using drugs, we should definitely acknowledge the fact that this may be a cry for help from their part and we need to ask them how they’re doing.

mental health and addictions

Substance abuse as a risk factor for mental illness: Indeed, exposure to alcohol, drugs and other toxic substances in the womb or at a young age can increase a person’s risk of developing a mental illness. Certain disorders such as schizophrenia and anxiety can also be triggered by the exposure to drugs and alcohol in childhood, adolescence and even adulthood. In this sense, addiction to such substances is more of a cause than a symptom of mental illness.

– In certain cases, addiction can be a mental disorder in itself.  People with a substance use disorder can have distorted thinking, behavior and body functions. Changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the substance abused and make it hard to stop using it [5].

Time to make a change

It’s time to stop the taboo and stigmatization surrounding mental health and mental disorders. We need to encourage and promote stress management in the workplace as well as mental health awareness.

We must prioritize self-care and mental wellness. We need to focus on living a healthy lifestyle. Physical exercise, adequate sleep and healthy eating are great means to avoid hormonal and chemical imbalances in the body and the brain.

We need to nurture relationships outside of social media, build solid support groups and have no shame in being vulnerable or asking for help.

Our lifestyles have never been unhealthier, our community ties have never been weaker, and our goals have never been more materialistic. It is therefore easy to understand how these external factors can negatively impact our mental health and wellness thus increasing our likelihood of developing a mental disorder.

In this age of the internet and social media, we are also more vulnerable to bullying, comparing ourselves to others, and feeling lonely. It’s true our world may seem so connected, but we’ve never been so disconnected from each other… even more so from ourselves.

*NUMBERS TO CALL IN CANADA ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH*: https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/mental-health-care-in-canada-where-to-find-help-1.3767445″>https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/mental-health-care-in-canada-where-to-find-help-1.3767445

References

1: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/en/

2: http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response

3: http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/

4: https://cmha.ca/about-cmha/fast-facts-about-mental-illness

5: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

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