Introduction to mental health

First week on October is celebrated as mental health week. I have been working as volunteer for Schizophrenia Awareness Association(SAA) since 2009. SAA is involved in spreading awareness about mental health issues in the society.  This blog is an attempt to take that further on the eve of mental health week. This article is written, originally in Marathi, by Neelima Bapat, one of the key members of SAA. I have translated it in English with minor deviation and additions.

For variety of reasons, we, humans, face disturbances to our well-being, and in general health time to time and it natural phenomenon. This disturbance or off-balance is termed as illness. These can take place on two levels. One is on physical level and other is on mental level. Because of advancements in medical sciences, we know reasons for physical illness in most of the cases. Due to this knowledge we understand the pain the person might be going through, we are compassionate about it, we also are involved in treating the person, helping him or her to get out of the illness. Society, including government, is generally aware of physical health issues, it extends its support to such people-for example-blindness, physical disabilities etc. This all suddenly disappears when we see person who is affected by mental illness. We hardly see any awareness and support.

Strictly speaking in medical lingo, mental illness is direct outcome of imbalance created between basic building blocks of body called cells and fluid present among them in the brain. The brain contains certain chemical elements. If for some reasons, the desired levels of these chemicals get altered, that manifests into mental disorders. Because of these altered levels, the designated jobs to these chemicals don’t take place and that results in turmoil and state of flux. The sorry state of affairs is that the person going through these changes rarely gets any support, or is acknowledged of such issue. On the contrary, society and people around such person is subject to ill-treatment, ignorance, hate and many times cruelty. The result is loneliness, and withdrawal from the society which cascades into further deterioration

Mental disorders or illnesses are of different types.Schizophrenia, depression, bipolar mood disorders are some examples.  Phobia, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder(OCD), personality disorder are few others. It is estimated that roughly 15 to 20% people are affected by some or the other mental disorder, about 10% are suffering from major mental disorder and about 1 in every 60 persons, is affected by schizophrenia. This pattern is to be found across the globe, irrespective of their country, religion, caste, creed, gender, social or financial status does not matter.

Schizophrenia, mood disorders are considered to be major mental health issues. Among all natural and living beings, human beings are at the advanced stage of evolution and hence is most powerful. The main reason is that human beings are capable of intelligence, thinking and also ability to use it very effectively. Because of this humans have achieved mastery over simple acts such as doing daily chores to complex acts such ascending the space. Unfortunately, mental health disorders such as schizophrenia impacts severely this capability of humans. This illness transforms nearby persons into totally strangers, converts the life into a sea saw ride, lines between real and abstract, virtual becomes thin, the life collapses like a collapse of building made out of playing cards. Persons get various and different types of uncontrollable thoughts which are on one side away from reality, closer to fantasy and on the extreme side are hallucinations in nature. Person looses grip of life, career and even relationships. They loose faith and confidence on themselves and even on others. The most sad part of all this is that that person cannot do anything about it and completely helpless.

As per medical science, due to bio-chemical changes in the brain, person looses co-ordination between thoughts, emotions and behavior. There is no synergy between body and mind. That is the reason we notice people with such illnesses, show incorrect emotions at incorrect place at incorrect time. They also exhibit paranoid and cynical expressions towards close ones. Due to all such as turmoil, and confused state the life of the person is shattered. Since last few years, medical fraternity has been trying to find the root cause of such bio-chemical changes. Though we still don’t have a breakthrough on preventive and curative medicines, we now have in hour hands medicines which can effectively manage this disorder by partially restoring bio-chemical imbalance, thereby keeping the symptoms under control. It is needless to say that medicines alone are not sufficient in treating such illness. The support from families, and society is equally important.

Acceptance is first state. Treatment by psychiatrists is second. And then role of counselors to work on behavioral aspects, communication skills, relationships with closed ones is significant. The self help support groups(SHSG), like the one I facilitate at YCM Hospital Pimpri(in Pune),  play also important role during all this process where persons and their families get to share, talk, know about this illness. SHSGs provide such platform and hugely compliments medical treatment. Families also need to learn certain dos and don’t when dealing with persons impacted by schizophrenia or similar mental disorders. They need to learn to lower expectations from their wards. Staying away from guilt feeling, avoiding burn out, ensuring to continue with ones life and career while managing persons is critical., goes long way helping persons to come out the illness and strengthening the relationship.

Mental health issues such as schizophrenia usually hit during adolescent age. Heredity also plays role as well. Unpleasant events in ones life, during age of 15 to 25, such as failures in examinations, love life, career, death of dear ones, can trigger such illnesses. Such events are not cause of the illnesses, which is a of course, a misconception in the society due to lack of awareness. This is just one misconception out of many, which are prevalent in society, especially in Indian society. Superstitions is big one from that list. Faith that someone has performed act of witch craft which has caused such issue is very common, besides faith in sins of past life resulting in such issue is another very common superstition. Families end up in endless rituals, rather than focusing on medical treatment, delaying the recovery process. This kind of lack of senses, understanding about mental health issues need to be handled urgently. This is huge work but is very difficult and important. As some expert had said, ‘It is extremely difficult to treat the wrong and incorrect views towards mental illness, than the mental illness itself’.

Hope on the occasion on World Mental Health week this October, this blog, helped to understand it little bit better. Let’s come together and work towards making society better.

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