The mind is the centre of our being. Our lives usually take shape according to our perceptions. Our thoughts give rise to our feelings. At the centre of our thinking lie our brain and the body that it controls. It is the brain that controls all the organs of our body. It is this interdependence and interaction of our organs and systems that makes us who we are at a physical level. But sometimes, this mind-body balance goes awry.
Mood swings, emotional outbursts, sleep disorders, behaviour changes, loss/increase of appetite and suicidal thoughts etc are some of the common signs that indicate that something is wrong. Sometimes, symptoms extend to hallucinations, delusions, paranoia. Most of us are aware that there are many types of mental illnesses - ranging from depression to bipolar disorder to anxiety to schizophrenia. But most of us don't realise that many of these conditions are treatable and with proper professional intervention (from psychiatrists, counsellors, occupational therapists), most sufferers can lead a productive and fulfilling life. What sometimes comes in the way of crucial and timely treatment are the stigma and myths surrounding mental illness. Let me take it upon myself to dispel some of these misconceptions.
Myth 1: Children rarely experience mental health problems
This is so not true. Mental health problems and early warning signs are not unusual in children. Parents and schools have to be alert and act quickly when children exhibit uncharacteristic behaviour, as early diagnosis can greatly increase the efficacy of treatment and even lead to a full recovery.
"The media and films tend to spread a lot of misinformation about the mentally ill and we owe it to ourselves and to them to build our awareness."
Myth 2: People with mental health problems are violent and dangerous
The vast majority of people with mental health problems are not violent at all. If you don't believe me, maybe the research will convince you. Despite the public perception that most people with mental illnesses are dangerous, in the UK only 50 to 70 cases of murder a year can be linked to mental illness. When you look at those numbers with a mentally ill population of 7 million in that country, the percentage is minuscule. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association has clearly stated that "the majority of people who are violent do not (emphasis added) suffer from mental illness." If anything, those who have a mental illness are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of crimes. The media and films tend to spread a lot of misinformation about the mentally ill and we owe it to ourselves and to them to build our awareness.
Myth 3: Most mental health disorders are the result of one's actions and thoughts
While it is true that stress and anxiety are the result of one's thoughts, actions and speech, these need not be the causes of mental health issues. They may be the triggers at times or may even be consequences of an illness caused by factors that are rooted in brain chemistry and genetics. Trauma and big life stresses such as divorce or a death in the family could also trigger an illness. Usually, mental illness results from the interplay of a number of factors, biological, social and environmental.
Myth 4: Mental health problems are purely biological or genetic in nature
While it is true that recent research indicates that many mental illnesses have a genetic basis, it is also widely understood that environmental factors play a key role in determining who actually develops a disorder. So, as this new study shows, while some people may be more susceptible to developing a psychiatric condition like depression, they may actually live perfectly happy lives if they are exposed to the right kind of environment.
Myth 5: Mental health disorders are basically untreatable
Huge strides have been made in the field of psychopharmacology and there are medications that help in successfully managing a variety of mental health conditions. Many individuals respond well to medicines for depression, manic depressive disorders and even schizophrenia. They must, of course, be prescribed and monitored carefully by a professional. Some people do not need medication at all, and improve with psychotherapy alone. Another treatment that has an unnecessarily bad rap is electroconvulsive therapy, which is a procedure that is also seeing innovations. You can read more about treatments here. Don't forget that lifestyle changes can improve your prognosis too (see point 10).
Myth 6: Psychotherapy and counselling are not for kids issues with them
Because of stigma and general misinformation, many people balk at taking their children to a psychotherapist or counsellor. Similarly, they rarely consider getting counselling themselves to help in understanding their child better. Which is a pity. Counselling helps to understand and handle irrational and dysfunctional behaviour patterns observed in children. A professional may also be able to diagnose any underlying psychiatric condition, thus enabling early (and thus more effective) treatment. Counselling helps parents understand the risk factors and traumas affecting young children and teens too and allows them to develop a better relationship. Children can also benefit from having a safe therapeutic space in which to share their concerns and fears and has been associated with "significant improvements".
Myth 7: If you seek treatment you'll end up in hospital
It's hard to shake the image of straitjackets and locked wards, thanks to the various cultural representations of psychiatric treatment. First of all, having a mental illness does not necessarily indicate "madness" or "insanity". It simply means you have a problem, perhaps a serious one, but one that you can get help for. If you're extremely anxious or depressed or find yourself acting out, it's best to seek the support of family and start treatment. Hospitalisation is only necessary in extreme cases, or when you are a danger to yourself or others.
"Having a mental illness does not necessarily indicate 'madness' or 'insanity'. It simply means you have a problem, perhaps a serious one, but one that you can get help for."
Myth 8: People with suicidal tendencies are insane and need to be committed immediately
People with such tendencies need proper counselling and should not be treated as "crazy". There are many causes for such reactions like depression, bipolar disorders or extreme stress. When not treated on time it can lead to a tragic loss of life. Before rushing to judgements it's important to learn about the warning signs for suicide and to seek appropriate intervention.
Myth 9: Mental health problems can be can be handled within the family
Fear of stigma leads many people to try and hide their own problems or those of family members. They may shield the sufferer from the outside world and think they're helping them. What they're actually doing is wasting time that could be used to get the right kind of medical and psychological help and support. Delaying treatment is always a bad idea. There are professionals who are trained to help you. Let them.
Myth 10: The mental benefits of exercise and diet are overrated
Here are the facts, borne out by medical research: lifestyle factors like eating the right kind of diet and exercising regularly could cut your risk of developing depression. You can help both your body and mind by eating a healthy diet consisting of natural sources of proteins, vitamins, minerals, good fats, and healthy carbohydrates. In addition, exercise, yoga and meditation are also excellent tools to keep your mind healthy and minimise mental health issues.
Let your being be centralised and let stress and tensions neutralise...