Consider this: any sign of palpitation or discomfort in the chest area is bound to send you running to the cardiologist’s office. A bad cold won't have you call up the family doctor immediately, but you won't ignore it and go without medication either. Same for a back pain - you'll wait for a day or two and then visit the doctor.
Yet when people suffer from continuous fluctuation of emotions, excessive anger, long periods of feeling low and upset, how many do you think visit a psychiatrist or a psychologist? Very few. Only a miniscule population seeks professional help for mental health issues while the rest wait, hoping it will pass.
“We assume that ups and downs are part and parcel of life and need to handle our issues by ourselves," says Dr Jawahar Shah, co-founder of Welcome Cure, a virtual clinic that features over 100 doctors supplying online help. “Sometimes it’s just not that simple.”
And it could prove fatal: Mental disorders are serious illnesses that are caused by the imbalance of neurotransmitters (such as dopamine and serotonin) which work as mood regulators and controls sleep, stress and so on.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, every one out of four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. In 2010, a study conducted in NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences), Bengaluru reported that the burden of mental and behavioural disorders ranged from 9.5 to 102 per 1000 population. “Just like other illnesses, any sort of mental disorder is treatable, and the sooner it is diagnosed, the easier it is to cure,” says Dr Jay Shastri, honorary treasurer at Indian Association of Biological Psychiatry.
Here are five signs that warrant some attention, and at least a check-up with the doctor to rule out any possibility of illness.
1. Your moods fluctuate:
“According to WHO’s world mental health survey consortium, mood disorders are the second most prevalent disorder of all mental disorders,” says Dr Harsheen Arora. It is common for us to experience mood swings in reaction to changes in circumstances around us. What’s important to watch out for is when the situation is dealt with a disproportionate mood change. “Getting bogged down by non-resourceful emotions, and finding it hard to snap out of them,” is something to be aware of, says Harini Ramchandran, co-founder of School of Excellence, a Neuro Linguistic Programming institution. Watch out for this: “You get easily irritable, frustrated, and your tolerance levels are at an all-time low,” says Dr Sanju Gambhi, psychiatrist, Primus Super Speciality Hospital. “You find it hard to correctly process anything that anyone says, without any reasonable explanation.”
2. You experience inexplicable pain:
Pain is a messenger -- your body will try to warn you that there is a mental health problem lurking before you by sending out some physical signals. The warning sign will come “in the form of inexplicable physical or somatic symptoms such as body aches, gastrointestinal symptoms and so on", says Dr Samir Parikh, chief of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare.
3. You feel like your world is breaking down (over an extended period of time):
“I call it a multiple ripple effect,” says Ramchandran. “When relationships get messy with core people (your friends, parents, partner), and hating people becomes easier and vice versa, there’s a problem,” she says.
If you feel you’re losing your connection with what is otherwise a daily functioning world –- made of interpersonal relationships, socialising, etc, it’s probably time to stop, and reevaluate your mental health. Dr Arora cites an example: "A 28-year-old client came to me to help him cope with his anger outbursts. He said that these bursts had increased over two months, causing him to lose important relationships and risking his employment. It turned out the irritability and anger was stemming from underlying depression.”
4. You have disturbed sleep and appetite patterns:
This is often ignored, but shouldn’t be. “A large number of mental disorders are associated with disturbances of sleep,” says Dr Arora. “Psychoses, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and alcoholism are commonly seen in patients presenting with sleep complaints,” she adds. That said, don’t give yourself cause for undue alarm: If you are unable to sleep once in a while, or are sleeping into the day after a hectic schedule, it is a lifestyle choice. Dr Arora also reveals that In India, the exact incidence and prevalence of anorexia nervosa is not known, though there is indirect evidence from various clinics and hospitals that its incidence has been increasing in the last decade.
5. You forget stuff… a lot:
“Most psychiatric and psychological conditions also lead to a difficulty in one’s cognitive and mental processes, including a lack of attention and concentration, forgetfulness and difficulty in decision making," says Dr Parikh. Procrastination or slowing down is another indication of the same. “People go into a loop of trying to set their mind on something, but simply cannot--there’s a part of them that wants to do it, and another that doesn’t,” says Dr Ramchandran. This internal conflict, if experienced too often, warrants some investigation.
6. You want to harm yourself:
This is an alarm bell you should act on immediately, by seeking help. “If at times you feel the urge to harm yourself physically, there is certainly cause for concern,” says Dr Gambhi. Harming yourself could also include substance abuse. Uncontrollable strong urges to indulge in these activities are a sign that something’s not right.