As India continues to fight COVID-19 with extended lockdowns, social distancing, and travel restrictions, the effects on mental health are now becoming apparent. The recent series of shocking events in the Indian film industry has put the spotlight back on awareness around mental health, and rightly so.
The recent events have highlighted that mental health does not depend on the societal perception of how successful an individual is; rather, it is much more personal. It is, therefore, essential to understand mental health and related issues at a micro–level.
What is mental health?
Mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It’s proportional to an individual’s ability to cope with everyday stress, be productive, and contribute to his/her community.
The human brain is an impressive and intelligent machine– it has the unique ability to ‘Imagine.’ While this has been arguably the most critical factor in our evolution and progress as a species, it also has had some undesirable consequences. Often, these consequences manifest as mental issues such as anxiety attacks and depression.
Anxiety & Panic Attacks
Anxiety attack is our mind and body’s response to stress and unfamiliar or uncertain situations.
Fact CheckOn average, one in three women and one in five men experience anxiety at some point in their lives.
Panic attacks are sudden intense bouts of fear, lasting up to 10 minutes and accompanied with shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, trembling, and derealization, among others manifestations.
What strikingly separates anxiety attacks and panic attacks is the nature and severity of the event:
- Anxiety attacks are often associated with something stressful or threatening as compared to panic attacks which happen out of the blue.
- Anxiety attacks can vary from being mild to severe, whereas panic attacks are almost always disruptive and incapacitating.
Depression or clinical depression is a mood disorder, not to be confused with transient blues. The symptoms persist longer (more than 2 weeks) and are much more severe. Depression is indicative of one’s psychological health, often triggered by a life event.
Major depression episodes are almost always associated with vegetative symptoms such a –
- Altered sexual function
- Change in sleep pattern and body temperature.
Depression causes a rippling effect, affecting everyone around the person.
One’s personality is intrinsic to oneself and typically does not change often. A personality disorder has to do with frequent deviations from one’s base personality to another- feeling, thinking, and acting out, which may seem different from society’s expectations and beliefs.
As per the American Psychiatric Association, there are 10 types of personality disorders, based on patterns of behaviour and inner experiences.
Mental health disorders can be debilitating, and the associated stigma further adds to it. Therefore, it becomes imperative first to understand the nature of these disorders and shed any inhibitions, shame, or prejudice.
General Symptoms of Mental Illness
Like lifestyle diseases, mental illness is not a sudden occurrence – it is a journey, a dark one indeed. However, in most cases, there are observable symptoms, signalling degradation of mental health. Some of these are mentioned below –
- Loss of pleasure (anhedonia)
- Prolonged feeling of helplessness
- Reduced ability to concentrate
- Discouragement about one’s future
- Self-esteem issues
- Lack of energy
- Trouble doing tasks and making decisions
- Social isolation
- Extreme fluctuations in mood
Early diagnosis leading to treatment coupled with support from loved ones, can ensure that the issue does not spiral into a black hole.
Taking control of mental health
As per WHO, poor mental health is associated with the following:
- Unhealthy lifestyle
- Physical ill-health
- Social exclusion
- Rapid social change
- Gender discrimination
- Stressful work situations
- Human rights violation
Mental health issues can wreak havoc on everyday life and well-being. Below mentioned are various steps that we can take to beat mental health disorders.
1. Food as Medicine (Nutrient Profiling)
In a recent study, it was found that of the 34 essential nutrients evaluated, 12 emerged with antidepressant properties –
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6 & B12
- Vitamin C
It translates to more leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, bell peppers, and whole grains. At the same time, there is a need to cut back on sugar and refined/processed foods.
While food doesn’t replace therapy and medication, sharing meals with family and friends can have a therapeutic effect. It promotes a sense of belongingness and togetherness.
2. Inner peace (Mindfulness)
Constant exposure to stress can lead to an increase in our cortisol levels. Mindfulness can play a significant role in reducing the elevated cortisol levels in a matter of weeks.
Mindfulness, through meditation, can also lower our propensity to ruminate on the past and help build an optimistic outlook towards the future. Many yoga postures help stimulate our brain, and regular practice can help overcome stress.
3. Speak, talk, chat, express, discuss (Communication)
Talking to friends (including furry ones) and family about one’s feelings – the good, bad and the ugly – can go a long way in helping someone with depression and anxiety. Helplines and forums that are open to communications and listening are other avenues that can be used to express your emotions.
4. Adversity Quotient (AQ)
We probably know about IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient). But most of us probably have never heard of AQ. Adversity Quotient (AQ) quantifies our ability to deal with adversities.
Call it resilience or grit; positive construal can be learnt and mastered over time. The habit of cultivating a strong and resilient mental stamina should start at a young age. It will ensure that the next generation evolves with a powerful will and a confident self.
5. Mental Health Promotion and Care
The first step is to consider mental illness like any physical disease. Education and awareness around various aspects of mental illness should become a priority. Mental illness should not be seen as a sign of individual weakness, poor life choices, or an extraneous element of physical health. Only then can the stigma (social and self) and discrimination due to mental illness can be eradicated.
It is time we step back, reflect and start speaking about mental health in every forum possible.
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