MENTAL HEALTH: IS OUR SOCIETY DOING ENOUGH?

By Palak Singla

(30/08/2020 18:00 IST)

“You can't judge a book by its cover"

We can't just look and tell how the other person is feeling, it's nearly impossible to judge someone's personality based on what they show on social media because what we see may not always be the truth. It's often said that the happiest person in the room is rather the saddest one. From someone else's perspective our lives may seem perfect, even if it's shattering into bits and pieces. It must be understood that usually, a person’s social behavior is vastly different from the actual state of their mental health.

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. It is important at every stage of life.

But let's think and introspect that are we paying enough attention to our mental health? Are we as a society accepting towards those facing mental health issues? Is our reaction to someone facing these issues appropriate?

A good mental health is not about always being happy, it's when we feel and accept all kinds of emotions including negative ones and still find the strength to move on without giving up. Most of us like to share good things; it's hard for us to be able to talk about 'real things' like deep-hidden emotions, fears and our insecurities which really matter. To keep our mind healthy, we need to express our emotions.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) one in four people in the world will be affected by some kind of mental or neurological disorder 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.

Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek professional help. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent people suffering from mental disorders to get proper care and treatment.

People have created quite rigid mind-sets regarding the mental health of individuals. Many believe that mental illness is just a way for people to run away from their problems because they are too weak to face them. They think of mental illness as a flaw in a person's character. But, in reality the case is completely different.

Facing mental health issues isn’t really a person’s “choice”. They are as real a problem as any other physical health problem, and therefore should be treated with the same level of consideration.

The exact cause of these illnesses is not yet known to us, but research makes it clear that mental health illnesses result from a combination of psychological, social, environment and biological factors.

Therefore, a person should never be “blamed” for facing mental health problems; rather they should always be supported.

Mental health is extremely stigmatized by our society. Most people who are going through any serious mental health illness face dual challenges. One faced because of the symptoms and disability caused by the illness; the other is from the society that has stereotypes and prejudices regarding the topic because of the misconceptions they carry.

These misconceptions lie along the lines of phrases such as- “Young people and children don’t suffer from mental health problems”,“People who need psychiatric care should be locked away in institutions” , “A person who has had a mental illness can never be normal”, “Mentally Ill persons are dangerous" etc.

Apart from the public stigma, people also face self-stigma which is the prejudice that they associate with themselves while facing any mental illness.

This makes it very difficult for the person who is already facing problems like these, to function efficiently and it adds to their negative feelings about themselves and further devastates them.

We all face problems in life, in-fact problems are a part of our lives. It's okay to face problems, but it's really upsetting to see that because of the myths regarding mental health, people are afraid to speak about them and are not comfortable to discuss them. They avoid seeking professional help if needed because the society considers them "mentally retarded".

Some think that they can deal with their issues on their own, while others can't find the right counselor or think that they lack enough time and energy to seek counseling and psychotherapy.Often, people seeking therapy don't get enough support from their families, friends and the society. Our community isn't doing enough to motivate people to seek professional help; rather it criticizes and makes things much harder for the person who solicits help. People need to stop using the line "you need therapy" as an insult.

Another problem regarding therapy is that it is not affordable for everyone. But a lesser known fact is that there are some organizations which provide free therapy for those in need.

It is an appreciable act to get up and acknowledge that 'yes, I need help'. This doesn't make the individual a weak person; it rather proves that they are brave enough to accept it that it's okay to feel whatever they are feeling. And, they are willing to put all the effort to live a better life.

It's hard to seek help, but it's very much required for people battling mental illnesses and even for those who want a better insight towards life, because therapy is for mental health and not just for mental disorders.

According to ancient theories, abnormal behavior was explained through the operation of supernatural and magical forces, people used exorcism to remove the evil residing in the individual.

In early 19th century America, care for the mentally ill was almost non-existent: the afflicted were usually relegated to prisons, alms-houses, or were under inadequate supervision by families.

It must have been so hard for the individuals facing these issues back then. That when they were at that point in their lives where they required immense amount of love, care and understanding, all they got was hatred and despise. They didn't even receive the treatment that everyone deserves.

It was in the later ages that people realized that these mentally disturbed people required medical and not theological treatment.

Even today our society treats a person who is mentally ill as "crazy", going to a therapist is considered to be a shame and is a social taboo because of which those people are brutally treated and looked down upon. This makes the situation so much worse than it already is, and it completely hampers the recovery of the individual.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young people as well as older individuals. In more than 90% of cases, suicide is the outcome of pre-existing mental disorders and associated risk factors.

Globally 800,000 people die from suicide every year – that’s twice the number from homicide and one person every 40 seconds.Followed by suicide is the trauma faced by the victim's family and friends who have lost their loved one. This has a heavy impact on the society.

On Aug. 1, U.S. Representative Chip Roy (TX-21) tweeted, "We're seeing more suicides than COVID deaths."

A murder makes the news, but when someone commits suicide it's hardly significant to the media, all they show is utter silence unless the victim is a famous personality.

It is not acceptable to simply go on and call suicide "cowardice" without even trying to think about the reason behind it. Most suicide victims suffer from depression.

"Depression" does not feel the same to everyone, but what everyone has in common is that they don't feel like themselves and suicide seems like the only option left, not because they want to end their lives, but because they want to get relief from the excruciating pain that depression brings along.

Some say that suicide is an act of selfishness, but I want to ask the question that is getting cancer or a heart disease being selfish? Of course not, the same goes with depression or any other clinical mental disorder.

People who recover from cancer and serious heart diseases are talked about, but are we talking enough about those who battle the demons of their very own minds by battling depression and other serious mental illnesses?

The truth is that these disorders affects a person to such an immense extent that their feelings reach self-devastating levels and they just want all the pain to stop. It diminishes one's logical judgment.

As long as mental health and suicides are stigmatized, they will remain a hidden yet a very realistic problem that the world is facing.

It's important to know that suicide is very much preventable, if people receive professional help at the right time.

When someone faces something as common as fever, they are told to approach a doctor to receive medical help. But even if someone faces something as serious as depression, are they immediately told to approach a therapist? "NO" In this case, the person is told to snap out of it or to get over it and stop feeling that way, as if there is a switch in one's head which can be instantly turned off and the person's mental health would become great again.

Some are told that they have access to all the luxuries of life and that there are so many people who are worse off than them, therefore they should be strong and grateful for the life they are living. But the truth is that people with mental illnesses come from all blocks of life ranging from the richest people in the world to the ones who have the most poverty-ridden lives, because our mental health has nothing to do with the amount of riches we have.

People don't understand that it is immensely difficult for a person facing mental health problems to treat it on their own. Often, the loved ones of someone facing these issues feel that they are capable enough to help the person crawl out of the problem. But more often than not, this is not true.

Mental health professionals study for years and years to really understand how people facing mental health problems actually feel and how they can be helped. This knowledge doesn’t come naturally to anyone, even if they have had some experience with mental health issues. Professional help to deal with mental illnesses isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity.

Today, we use the term 'depressed' to describe our feelings quite casually. People should choose their words wisely while using such clinical terms because by calling themselves depressed on some uncomfortable or sad feeling they are literally belittling the pain and hardships undergone by the one facing actual 'depression'. This range of difference is so much that it's like comparing someone who has a small scratch on her/his leg to someone who has a broken leg.

We, as a society should reframe how we view mental illnesses; we should treat them as significant and harmful as any other physical disease. Once, we change our perceptions towards this issue, it will help us develop a positive attitude towards them. All this will make help, treatment, care and support more accessible for people suffering these illnesses and will have less effects of the same on families and our society.

Let's come together and create a safe environment where people are free to talk about their issues and illnesses.But, the question is that how can this be done?

First, we need to stop using offensive words like "lunatic", "mental", "crazy", "stupid", "psycho", "schizo", "nuts", "retard" for people facing mental health issues. These words just add to the already created myths about mental health.US National Institute of Medicine has listed 250 stigmatized words that people use to address people with mental illnesses.

Why are these negative terms used so widely across the globe?

Frequent use of these words in media, television, family and peers, make it seem like using them is acceptable. Well, it’s not.

Second, we need to understand more about mental health and increase our knowledge and awareness about the same, because only when we are aware of these issues we would be able to understand and help people facing these issues.

There is a need to respond to false statements about mental illnesses. Many people have wrong and damaging ideas on the subject. Accurate facts and information may help change both their ideas as well as their actions.

Thirdly, we need to initiate discussions about these issues openly so that people who have battled or are battling these issues feel free to talk about them. Only then people will realize that these problems are a part of our daily lives.

There are so many ways in which we can offend people facing mental health issues while having conversations. Because we have our own assumptions, we think that we know the problem but the reality is that we don't. We use sentences like “see the bright side”, “I’ve been there”, “I know what you are going through” even when we have never actually faced any kind of mental health illness. These are ways when we are actually offending someone with the intension of helping them.

We need to ask more questions rather than making assumptions about serious topics. We need to make some room in our minds to hear what the other person has to say, and then we will realize that we are all just a community of people who are trying to reduce the number of bad days we go through. There is a need to talk more about mental health, because deep down everyone craves a human connection.

Perhaps, part of the reason that some people are not able to accept the effect of mental health problems is that these concerns are ‘invisible.’ You can see a broken leg and you know it will take time to heal. But the average person can’t ‘see’ depression. Your boss wouldn’t expect you to work on a broken leg, but depression? “You’re just feeling blue today, it’s okay and we all feel sad. Get over it.”

The only way to make these problems "visible" is to stop whispering about mental health. Instead, let’s talk out loud about it and listen more because at the end of the day, we are all in this together.

About Authors.

Palak Singla

Desk Editor

References.

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