What is the definition of mental health?
“Mental health…is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.” — Noam Shpancer, PhD
According to WHO mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. This means that our mental health affects the way we feel, the way we think and the way we act and react to external stimuli. This then would mean that based on our mental health, our reactions and response or the choices we make therein while dealing with stress or any given situation we face, depends entirely on our mental health.
Given that mental health is part of who we are; it plays the role of a wingman/woman (to put it mildly), throughout our lives from the time of infancy, through adolescence, to adulthood. Having said that, physical health goes hand in hand with mental health as one impacts the other and vice versa. Hence staying physically healthy will build resilience and self-esteem, to make one a strong well-rounded member of society.
Very often poor mental health is confused with mental illness. It is not the same thing. One can be in poor mental health and not be mentally ill and vice versa. Mental illnesses are health conditions that involve changes in emotion, thinking or behaviour (or a combination of these), which can further be associated with a cause for distress and/or problems in functioning in a social, work or family situation. These can only be resolved, like any other disease; like diabetes, high blood pressure etc, through medication. Mental health on the other hand can change over a period of time. A person’s mental health depends on the demands or pressures put upon, on a person. Too many demands or pressures, beyond a person’s degree of tolerance can impact mental health. For example, an adolescent today faces numerous demands on his/her time. Pressure of performance in school, at home, extras classes, individual study time, social pressures and not the least- peer pressure. Balancing all these components equally well or the inability to do so can impact mental health.
Which brings us to the question of: Can mental health change over time? The simple and straightforward answer is – Absolutely. Adolescence is a distinctive and formative yet impressionable age in the growth of a child and is a crucial phase of life for developing good social and emotional habits. During adolescence risk-taking behaviours, such as substance use or sexual risk-taking can begin. These risk-taking behaviours can be detrimental and fraught with emotional difficulties and could severely impact an adolescent’s mental and physical well-being.
The next step then would be to diagnosis and then the follow up treatment. Mental Health conditions are manageable and treatable. Many people with mental health conditions recover completely and return to their fully functioning lives quickly. The trick here is to pay attention to the person/adolescent. Pay attention to what is happening in their lives and really just listen, and be active listeners when they talk. That is most of the battle won.
Causes of Mental Health Conditions.
Mental health conditions seem to have increased exponentially among adolescents in the past 15-20 years. Mental health of an adolescent is affected by multiple factors. Some extraneous and others internal.
There are a multitude of factors that the young person is exposed to that directly or indirectly impact his/her mental health. Risk-taking behaviour, Emotional upheavals, Behavioural upheavals, Eating Disorders, Social influences, Anxiety, some mild forms of Depression, Phobias, Peer Pressure, Suicide and Self-Harm are but a few.
All these mentioned above are treatable if diagnosed in time.
Mental Health conditions such as Risk-taking behaviours like sexual experimentation, experimenting with drugs and alcohol etc are common during adolescence and can prove to be dangerous and damaging to the mental health of the young.
Emotional upheaval in the lives of the young can lead to behavioural disorders, eating disorders, depression, lack of attention, phobias, fear of going to school and anxiety which could further lead to suicide and self-harm are a another set of causes for mental health conditions. Social media has today become one of the major contributors to mental health disorders among adolescents and even children as young as 9-10; leading to risk-taking behaviour due to peer pressure, and pressure to be one with the in-crowd, to be popular and the need to be noticed. The kind of content on social media platforms, if not monitored can lead to self-harm and even suicide. A scary proposition.
It is imperative then that parents and teachers educate themselves on how to recognize a mental health condition in children and the steps to take in case they suspect a problem. They must know whom to contact and how to deal with the situation.
All these issues if caught at an early stage can be dealt with and are treatable, allowing the young person to perform normally in the community. If not, it will lead to bigger problems. The diagnosis, treatment, and follow up of mental health conditions amongst young people can be complex but must be a priority. Very often parents and teachers may disregard some visible, others – hidden, conditions as being merely a part of the growing process of adolescences. To add to this young people are very often unwilling to ask for help, due to peer pressure and the need to fit in and seem normal.
Some young children and adolescents are at a higher risk of mental health conditions due to their living conditions, societal stigma, discrimination they come up against or the lack of access to quality health help. It would be prudent to mention here that, the longer the adolescent or young child is exposed to the various risk-factors, the higher the chances of the child/adolescent having mental health issues.
Having said that, getting a diagnosis from an expert, would not necessarily mean that the adolescent has a mental health condition at the present time, but a diagnosis would help one manoeuvre the pitfalls that could follow.
To diagnose a mental health condition, doctors or an expert will look for symptoms experienced, eating and sleep patterns and habits, the impact this creates on their lives, social behaviour, mood swings if any, thoughts, intensity and duration. Once the medical expert has been able to diagnose the cause the next step is Treatment.
Treatment and Impact of Mental Health There are multiple risk factors that adolescents are exposed to. The more risk factors adolescents are exposed to, there is a greater chance of the probable impact on their mental health. To reiterate once again. Mental health conditions are treatable and getting better is possible. Sadly, many adolescents who have mental health issues do not want to talk about it. Having said that; the earlier the detection, the better the response to treatment.
The impact that Mental Health conditions have on the adolescent and his or her family is enormous. Mental health conditions affect most aspects of an adolescent’s life; be it in the classroom, poor attendance in school, difficulties with academics, unhealthy or poor social interaction and integration, trouble adjusting to school, problems with behaviour in school, being unable to pay attention in classes and concentration issues. All these aspects are critical to the success of an adolescent or student.
Diagnosis of a mental health condition does not automatically mean a need for treatment. Treatment depends on a variety of reasons: to mention a few, how severe the symptoms are; are the symptoms a cause for distress to the sufferer and do they affect the ability of the person suffering to perform everyday tasks, the risks that these conditions might pose and the benefits of available treatments available. It is important to mention here that mental health treatments are devised by medical experts only, and tailored to fit each individual’s needs. In today’s day and age very often, medical experts prefer to use a combination of therapy and medication which is proving to be very effective in treatment. Alternative therapies are also increasingly being used and/but must be used with caution.
Which brings us to the next step in treatment; Self-help. The dictionary definition of the word self-help is the use of one’s own efforts and resources to achieve things without relying on others. This is a very important step in treatment of mental health conditions. Experts can help with advice and medication, but until the individual wants to get better everything and all efforts to help, will fall by the wayside. Self-help here would them mean making a change in one’s lifestyle, which would include eating healthy, exercising, meditation, yoga practice and developing good and healthy sleep patterns to enable mental health and recovery. All of these changes are possible as they are quick and simple techniques that can easily be added to daily routines that can be maintained easily and regularly by the adolescent.
Self- help also includes support – the ‘I have your back’ feeling that only family and friends can give and it has to be given in abundance and all the time, without prejudice or judgement. The person suffering must at all times feel that his or her family and friends are standing in support like a rock to fall back on and to pick you up if you falter. Here once again it is important to mention that family and friends must be properly tutored in handling these mental health conditions.