By Urvita Bhatia and Abhijit Nadkarni
As we observe mental health awareness week across the globe, we need to recognise the pressing need to increase mental health awareness in the community. Mental health and mental illness are problems that demand as much attention and concern as physical health problems. Unfortunately, mental health has been largely neglected and misunderstood at an individual as well as societal level. To compound this, a person with mental illness is subject to stigma and discrimination as opposed to receiving care and support. This negligence has far reaching consequences on emotional well-being, including delayed detection, which in turn leads to delayed or no treatment of mental health problems.
Many times we find ourselves in situations where we experience significant changes in the way we think, feel, or behave; and find that these changes are detrimental to our health and functioning. The nature and extent of these changes may vary in complexity, and pose a challenge if we are not able to acknowledge and appreciate their presence and relevance. Early recognition of emotional distress is crucial to minimise the impact of stressors or adverse events, prevention of escalation into serious mental health problems, and maintenance of overall emotional well-being. One way of ensuring this is to increase the understanding of mental health and its components.
Mental health problems encompass a wide range of conditions that impact one’s mood, thinking and behaviour. Most people tend to experience some kind of emotional distress from time to time. But, it can be considered as a cause for concern when this distress affects one’s ability to cope up with day to day living and function effectively.
If you are undergoing a stressful situation, or if you have noticed significant changes in the way you feel or behave, it is necessary to first understand and explore the nature of the change. This means reflecting on why you are feeling distressed. For instance, experiencing basic human emotional states such as anxiety, fear and worry are normal when these occur in the presence of a perceived stressful event. However, one should be concerned when these responses are exaggerated, exist over a long period of time, exist in the absence of an obvious stressor and interfere with one’s ability to function effectively. Since the best judge of any situation is oneself, attaining fuller self-understanding can help in reducing the level of distress, and also makes it easier for support systems to provide care and assistance.
One way to move forward proactively and manage mental health problems effectively is to seek help from others. Talking openly and expressing your concerns to a person you can confide in, such as your significant other, close friend, or relative helps in moving forward from an on-going distress situation. Sometimes, venting out your feelings may help by putting your distress in context, in diversifying your perspectives, and in solving problems. Most of the time, people find it easier to access and consult a doctor. A medical doctor can help determine whether the symptoms constitute a physical illness, or indicate a mental health problem, or both. Also, doctors can assist by making a referral to a mental health professional, like a psychologist or psychiatrist, in cases which require specialised management. Mental health professionals are trained to assess mental illnesses and provide treatments focussed on relieving distressing symptoms, and on building coping skills in order to effectively manage the distress. Apart from these sources of help, one can contact a helpline to seek immediate support during a crisis situation.
Majority of people who experience mental health problems can be able to restore to earlier level of functioning and emotional well-being. Early recognition and working proactively to address emotional distress may result in greater chances of recovery, and aids in learning of new skills to cope better with future demands and pressures.
By Urvita Bhatia and Abhijit Nadkarni