The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
In common language mental health is a holistic concept of wellbeing, including emotional, psychological and social well-being. Mental health affects the way you think, feel and act. So, it’s important to give time to yourself, as your mental health will determine your ability to cope with stress, make decisions and maintain social relations.
At every stage of life – childhood to adolescence to adulthood – it’s vital to have a great mental health. People who go through mental health problems experience changes in their thinking, mood and behavior.
Factors leading to mental health problems include:
- Biological factors like genes or brain chemistry
- Life experiences like trauma or abuse
- Family history of mental health problems
Mental health problem is a leading cause of disability in the US and most of the developed countries. However, it can be treated, and people recover completely.
Mental health disorders
Mental health disorder or mental illness refers to a variety of mental health conditions that affect your thinking, mood and behavior. Most common mental health disorders are anxiety disorders, mood disorders and schizophrenia disorders.
Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorders. A person with anxiety disorder has excessive fear or anxiety towards a specific object or situation. Such individuals try to avoid the object or situation that may trigger anxiety.
Types of anxiety disorders
- Panic disorder
A person with panic disorder experiences sudden panic attacks, which are recurrent and gives a feeling of imminent disaster. The person feels intense fear that comes on quickly and within minutes the terror peaks. Panic attacks can be unexpected or triggered by a feared event or object.
Phobia is persistent and excessive fear of an object or a situation. Phobias can be broadly categorized into – simple phobia, social phobia and agoraphobia.
Simple phobias – People with simple phobia have excessive fear of specific objects such as blood, dogs, spiders or snakes.
Social phobias – A person with social phobia has intense fear of social situations. They feel that their actions and behaviour will be negatively evaluated by others.
Agoraphobia – People with agoraphobia have an intense fear of objects and situations that might trigger a panic attack. They are afraid of being in a situation where they may find it impossible to leave.
There are other types of phobias; real number could be in thousands.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
A person with obsessive compulsive disorder has obsessive thoughts that compel them to perform repetitive behavior. Most common OCD behavior displayed is hand washing.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed a horrible incident like rape, war or abuse. The victims of PTSD relive the traumatic event through hallucinations, nightmare and hot flashes. They feel their life and that of others around them is in danger. Common symptoms of PTSD include sleeping problem, irritability, edgy behavior, concentration problem and feelings of helplessness.
Mood disorder refers to a mental health condition that causes serious changes in a person’s mood, so much so that it affects normal life activities. Such people have significant mood swings, ranging from manic elation or depression.
Types of mood disorders
- Major depression
A person going through major depression experiences prolonged periods of sadness. Such a person is not interested in activities or events that he/she enjoyed previously.
- Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is also known as manic depression. This mental illness is characterized by extreme mood swings. Such people go through phases of emotional highs called mania and through periods of emotional lows called depression.
- Persistent depressive disorder
Persistent depressive disorder is also known as dysthymia. A person going through this disorder experiences mild chronic depression. Symptoms of the patient is similar to major depression, but the intensity is less.
- SAD (seasonal affective disorder)
SAD is a major depression that triggers due to lack of sunlight. This mood disorder is common during winter, early spring and late autumn in countries that are very far from the equator.
Schizophrenia is a severe mental health condition that affects a person’s ability to think, feel and behave clearly. A person with schizophrenia displays behavior that indicates loss of touch with reality, disorganized speech or behavior, and reduced activities in routine daily life. The individual may also have difficulty in concentration and memory functions.
Schizophrenia is not like the other mental health disorders, and its symptoms can be very disabling. Symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions, thought disorders, and hallucinations. A patient also displays withdrawal behavior, lack of motivation and unsuitable mood.
Treatment is usually lifelong, and requires a combination of medications, psychotherapy and self-help resources.
Symptoms of mental health
Each mental health disorder has its own set of symptoms. But most mental illness has some common characteristics.
Common symptoms of mental health disorder include:
- Withdrawal from people and activities
- Suicidal thoughts
- Major changes in eating habit
- Sleeping problems
- Fatigue, numbness and lack of empathy
- Unexplained muscle tension and body aches
- Feelings of hopelessness and loss of control
- Excessive smoking, drinking or drugs
- Excessive irritability, anger and fear
- Experiencing forgetfulness, sadness and confusion
- Extreme mood swings leading to relationship problems
- Inability to perform day-to-day activities and chores
- Constant thoughts of self-hurt or hurting other people
- Hearing voices in the head that doesn’t stop
A person with mental health condition is unable to cope with stress and during periods of emotional distress is likely to display a series of symptoms. Such people find difficulties in maintaining normal behavior and activities. The period of emotional distress is termed as nervous breakdown or mental breakdown.
Mental health and wellness
Most people go through some amount of mental health concerns at different phases of their life. But if the concerns become a cause of stress and affects your day-to-day functioning then it’s a case of mental health disorder. Any mental health condition affects your ability to perform at work, in school or in relationships. So, the signs and symptoms of mental illness must be taken seriously and managed using proper medication and psychotherapy.
The adage, “prevention is better than cure” is true for mental health as well. People with positive mental health are able to cope with the stressors in their life and realize their full potential. They work productively and can make valuable contribution to society.
Selfcare or taking care of ourselves, is the first step towards positive mental health. In the hustle and bustle of life, we often ignore our health and wellbeing. It’s easy to take a relaxing walk in the park or make an appointment for a de-stressing massage; these breaks are important for your mental health. The time spent on relaxation adds to your wellbeing and is a necessity.
Ways to maintain positive mental health
Sleep well – Nothing compares to a good night’s sleep for rest and fitness. The amount of sleep you get at night is directly related to your physical and mental wellbeing. Yet, when it comes to completing office work, partying late or watching a movie, most people don’t mind compromising on their sleep hours.
Balanced life – Lead a balanced life. While your job is important, it’s equally important to enjoy the little things you love. Make some time for that mini vacation you feel like taking or just go for the long drive or make yourself available to your children and play with them.
Exercise and eat well – Your health will depend on what you eat and how active you are. So, exercise at least 30 minutes every day and eat a balanced diet to stay fit and healthy. Nutritious food and daily exercise do wonders to your mental health as it’s linked to your physical health.
Nurture relationships – Maintain a healthy relationship with friends and family. Your social connections make you the person you are, and also gives you strength during difficult phases of life.
Manage stress – Learn relaxation techniques to help cope with your stress and fears. If you have problems in managing stress then use a relaxation technique like yoga, deep breathing or visualization to distract yourself from objects or situations that make you anxious.
Join a group – Be a part of a group by enrolling in a social club, a sports club or a hobby class. You can also volunteer for a cause or be a part of the local community. Meeting people who share similar interest helps to de-stress and is great for relaxation.
Building confidence – Learn a new skill and practice it diligently. Learning will improve your cognitive skills and boost your confidence as it gives a sense of achievement.
Accept yourself – Every individual is different. There is no need to compare yourself or your successes and failures with others. Be happy in the knowledge that you are unique and do things that make you happy.
Realistic goals – Set goals that are realistic and achievable. Take up one task at a time. Success comes to those who have specific goals as they are able to keep track of what they are doing to reach the desired place.
Take help – Everyone needs help and support at different phases of their life. It’s all right to reach out for help and guidance. Talking to your friends, family or your doctor can help you to maintain positive mental health.