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Mental Health: Mind at Peace or in Pieces?

Time and tide waits for no man and none other than ‘gen–present’ and ‘gen-next’ can perfectly relate to this oft-quoted aphorism.// As the ebb and flow of waters continue unabated, people are caught in a frenetic pace, as if there are no tomorrows. Living on the edge, seeking newer excitement propelled by desires of a ‘picture-postcard’ life is the present age magnificent obsession.

Today, ‘failure’ is unacceptable - a mute submission to the vagaries of competition and stress, throwing asunder the delicate balance between the mind and body. What happens next is anybody’s guess.

Indeed, this is boom time for mental health professionals and counselors, not to forget the ubiquitous god-men and style gurus, who are like the proverbial oasis in a desert.

Mental Health is National Wealth

Another, World Mental Health Day, Oct 10th, 2006, has arrived, embracing a novel theme:” Building Awareness: Reducing Risk of Mental Illness and Suicide”. Experts the World over will indeed be putting their heads together, finding solutions to some of the disturbing trends in mental health.

It is estimated that nearly one in ten, worldwide, are grappling with mental health problems, of which anxiety disorder has acquired a ‘household’ status. Recent figures show that nearly 54 million mentally ill Americans add up to the nation’s economic burden. If forecasts are to be believed, ‘chronic depression’ will have only ‘heart disease’ as a key contender for the numero-uno health ailment 2020.

Brain: A Hard Nut to Crack

Akin to assembling pieces of a jigsaw, scientists have tried to comprehend the many reasons for malfunctions in the brain that ignite a host of mental illnesses. After all mental illness knows no age, strata, society, color, creed or caste.

Five major categories of mental illness have been delineated. They are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia, dementias, a nd eating disorders, of which, by virtue of its occurrence, anxiety disorder happens to be most common.

Anxiety disorders are known to hamper a victim’s quality of life. People suffering such disorders are seen to be at their wits end, grappling panic attacks, or irrational fears, and sometimes even obsessive compulsive behavior. Mood disorder is another type of mental illness characterized by depression, manic depression or mood swings. Such patients may display extreme sadness or elation, and swings in activity and energy levels. One of the extreme consequences of mental illness may be the pronounced risk of suicide.

Cutting a Long Story Short

It is estimated that over one million people worldwide die as a result of suicide. In the past ten decades, suicides have out numbered homicides. Studies have shown that biological, genetic, psychological and cultural factors influence the risk of suicide in any individual. The underlying risk factors associated with suicide include serious mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse, childhood abuse, death of a loved one, financial loss, personal upheavals, despair, and despondency.

Undoubtedly, mental illness that is left untreated enhances the risk of suicide. Suicidal behaviors encompass a spectrum of tendencies ranging from suicidal attempts, gestures, threats and suicidal thoughts. Suicide is the result of extreme sadness and psychological distress relating to unfulfilled needs. The psychological pain a patient experiences is fuelled by a history of mental problems such as depression or anxiety. There is no perfect description of a person who is suicidal. Only a trained heathcare professional can spot the complex behavior and avert a tragedy.

Coping skills and indomitable spirit may help a depressed person tide over one such phase. Notwithstanding strength of spirit, the impact of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy in dealing with suicidal tendencies canno t be overlooked. It is absolutely necessary to set the ball rolling on a number of prevention programs that address risk and protective factors at different stages. It is no coincidence that the majority of those who commit suicide visit a non-mental health professional during the last month of their lives. This is indeed a pointer about the crucial role primary care provider’s can play in identifying risk factors for suicide and advising timely intervention of mental health professionals.

It is equally important to have an accurate database on suicide-rates, to enable threadbare analysis that can form the basis of appropriate remedies. Presently, data capture regarding suicides is erratic, with only stray incidents being reported. To correct this, it will be worthwhile to spruce up surveillance, enabling a record of all statistics to build an authentic suicide database, which will form the edifice of suicide prevention strategies. Additionally, awareness programmes that strive to remove the stigma associated with mental health issues and risks of suicide is needed to encourage people to be willing to seek help. Suicide is a public health problem, and this information should be clearly disseminated.

Mental Block: Wrath of the Gods or Possession of Devils?

Hell hath no fury than a ‘mentally-ill ‘scorned! Despite education and awareness programmes, the anathema surrounding ‘mental health issues’ needs redress. It is assumed that all mentally ill warrant a sequestered treatment, maybe even a lock up, to avoid violent encounters. This is perhaps the mother of all myths. Post rehabilitation, most mentally ill patients begin to lead productive lives within their communities.

The stigma that surrounds mental illness can be dissipated only by creating awareness focused on education. The media, which is an extremely powerful medium, is largely responsible for portraying mental illness in a ‘negative’ light. With its extensive reach, the message conveyed is often exaggerated, warped and dramatized to elicit TRP’s. Similarly, the entertainment industries’ take on the mentally ill as comic relief conveys a wrong message, contributing to abounding myths. Over the years, not surprising, these negative visuals and sound bytes have contributed to the tabooed perception of mental illness.

Indeed the media can buck the trend, by using its power to undo the misconceptions created, in an all out effort to remove prejudices from people’s mind. Finally ‘Mental Illness’ is not a bad word and like any other form of illness, can be successfully treated. As they say, it’s all in the mind!

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