“Mental health” refers to the state of our psychological (head) and emotional (heart) well-being. Physical health refers to our bodies and we usually know we are unwell when we start experiencing certain symptoms – a headache, a fever, low energy levels or an unfamiliar rash.
However, with mental health issues, there are no such “obvious” symptoms. This is what makes mental health issues so difficult to understand for many people. While some mental conditions have physical symptoms too (e.g. changes in sleeping patterns and appetite), it is the psychological and emotional difficulties which are “hidden” and therefore difficult to pick up.
It can also be difficult for someone experiencing such symptoms to describe what they actually feel like. Someone with depression can be assumed to just feel “sad” however, the actual internal experience is much more intense than the sadness we all feel at certain times.
The truth is that mental health applies to everyone – men and women; young and old; wealthy and disadvantaged. No one is immune to a mental health condition. There are instances where some
people are at a higher prevalence of developing a condition at some point (e.g. due to family history
or an environmental circumstance), however many people may experience mood disorders, trauma
reactions and substance-related disorders without any obvious contributing factors.
As a society, we are only now becoming more and more exposed to the reality of mental health conditions and challenges. In the past, people used to keep their mental health struggles to themselves – pretending that they were okay and would struggle internally. However, as time has gone on we are becoming more and more open about the prevalence of psychological disorders and how they affect our daily lives. It is important to end the stigma around mental illnesses so we can ensure that people access the assistance that they need.
Mental health practitioners, such as psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, are professionals who assist individuals who may be struggling with a mental condition. Upon consultation they are able to determine the best management of the condition – which could be medication, psychotherapy, skills development or environmental changes. Either way, seeing a professional allows people to express themselves, describe their symptoms and work out a plan to deal with the issue.
It is also important for us to be supportive to those who are struggling. We need to be open to listening to what someone has to say; advise them of where they can get assistance; and check in to see if they are sticking to their treatment plan. To end the stigma we need to make mental illness less taboo and more normalized, so that we can heal as a nation and as a society.
Understanding Mental HealthBy Reabetsoe Buys (www.shrinkmama.co.za)