This week is Mental Health Week. I thought it would be a good idea to blog a bit about mental health awareness and the importance of therapy or medication.
- Did you know that one in five Australians will experience a mental health disorder at least once in their lifetime? [Source]
- Did you know that in Australia, the greatest number of people suffering from a mental illness are between the ages of 18 and 24? And that 14 percent of children and adolescents between 4 and 17 years suffer from mental health problems? [Source]
- Did you know that one in four American adults suffer from a mental health disorder each year? [Source]
- Did you know that over a 100 million people suffer from mental illnesses in China? And almost 70 percent of them do not receive appropriate treatment? [Source]
- Did you know that according to the World Health Organisation, one in every 4 people all over the world develops at least one mental health disorder in their lifetime? [Source]
- And finally, according to the WHO, suicide claims a life every 30 seconds. [Source]
These statistics give you something to think about.
Mental health disorders include depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders among others. They affect a person’s education or work, their social relationships and their general functioning.
Till date, there are common myths and misconceptions that continue to exist about mental health problems which only makes the stigma associated with it worse.
- You are weak if you complain about mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety: No. You are not. A mental health problem like depression can be very debilitating. In it’s worst form, depression can affect all aspects of a person’s life to the point they isolate themselves from their friends, family and work, sleep all day or hardly sleep and just see no future at all. It is not something a person can just “get over” and trivialising it is not going to make it go away. The ‘tough love’ act does not ‘cure’ depression either. You might be the strongest person on the planet but given the right genes and the right environmental triggers, you can suffer from a mental health disorder at some point in your life. Mental illnesses do not discriminate between people based on age, gender, race, wealth, or physical health. Remember that.
- Once you are diagnosed with a mental health disorder, there is no hope for you in life: Imagine believing this when you are suffering from mental health problems. How do you reckon it will make you feel? A whole lot worse, I bet. There is research out there to show that you can manage problems like anxiety or depression with therapy or medication and psychotic illnesses through medication. It is not the end of the world. You can go back to work, have a relationship, have children, a family, and well, basically, have a life. You may not necessarily ‘cure’ the generalised anxiety or the depression but you learn to manage it a whole lot better and notice a reduction in the symptoms given the right treatment.
- People who self-harm are just engaging in attention-seeking behaviour: This is not true in most of the cases. People who self-harm tend to cover their cuts either by cutting on parts of the body such as their thighs or legs or else using accessories such as jewellery or wristbands or wearing long sleeves. Individuals tend to self-harm because they know of no other way to cope with their emotions and the emotional pain. The physical pain gives them something else to focus on. So if you do know someone who self-harms, don’t just brush them off as a person seeking attention from others but rather refer them to seek therapy. There is something else going on. Something else they are hiding deep down.
- People with a mental illness are violent and must be avoided: Research shows that people who are receiving treatment for a mental illness are no more likely to be violent than the general population and instead are more likely to harm themselves. [Source] It is a sad misconception and hence more often than not, you will notice that people avoid those with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
- Mental illness is contagious: No it is not. Just by hanging out with someone with schizophrenia or anorexia, you are not going to ‘catch’ it like the common cold. Spending time with someone who is extremely depressed can be mentally exhausting but you are not going to become depressed just because you are spending time with them.
- Only medication can help someone with mental health disorders: Wrong again. For disorders such as depression, social anxiety, specific phobias, separation anxiety, post-traumatic stress, there is evidence to show that cognitive-behavioural therapeutic interventions are beneficial. This is considered to be the gold-standard in therapy and so far has been proven to be most efficacious through randomised-controlled studies. Additionally, acceptance and commitment therapy is gaining ground as is interpersonal psychotherapy. None of these involve sitting on the couch and telling the therapist everything from the time you were a baby to your current state. Don’t believe the movies. Medication can certainly help with some of the above disorders and definitely for disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but along with therapy, it is even more beneficial.
- People who commit suicide are cowards or stupid: Sadly, I believed the coward bit about a decade or so ago. I don’t anymore. People who commit suicide or attempted it do so because they see no other choice. Living for them, is not a choice. They see no point in living. Everything is hopeless. And based on that, they make the rash decision of ending it all. The hundreds of children that seem to be committing suicide in India following poor exam results are most likely in this boat. Where they see a bad Year 10 or Year 12 mark as signifying the end of their lives literally. And deal with it the only way they know…killing themselves.
On a final note, people with mental illness are not a lost cause. If you know someone who is suffering but is not seeking help, do encourage them to do so. If you are suffering but hiding it from everyone, do seek professional help. It is not something to be ashamed of. It isn’t a sin to admit you are struggling. It isn’t weak if you need to seek help in order to cope with your own life.
See the statistics at the start of the post.
You are not alone. Definitely not.
Until next time,