Mental Health – Recognizing its impact and challenging its stigma

Published on 15th July, 2019 by Dr. Sanveen Kang

Mental Health – Recognizing its impact and challenging its stigma

As the title suggests, this article is written in the hope of increasing the understanding of psychological disorders across the life span and challenging its stigma. This article is an overview of the issue and is not a summary of all mental health issues riddling society.

The issue of mental wellbeing and related illness would come into our awareness at some point in our life. We are likely to hear of an individual’s struggle with mental illness, know of someone who has a mental illness (be it an acquaintance or a loved one), or be suffering from a psychological disorder. Yet, in the face of mental illness, it is not uncommon for most people to shy away by either not recognizing the signs of the illness, being in denial that their loved one or themselves is not suffering from a psychological disorder or spend a significant portion of their effort covering up their traces so as to prevent being founded for the fear of the stigma attached.

Most clinicians frequently find themselves tackling the stigmas attached to mental illness when providing insights to their patients and/or loved ones about their individual struggles. These questions are not spared even for loved ones so patiently and eagerly hoping to support their family member and friend who is lost in the shadows of mental suffering. Some commonly asked questions or statements include: “there is nothing wrong, it is just a phase;” “I am not crazy;” “does getting help mean everyone will find out including my employer or my child’s school;” “no one is my family has any problems therefore, there is nothing wrong with me;” and last but not the least, “is there is a tendency for over diagnosis due to potential financial gain?”

Fear breeds in the mind of humans when people do not fully understand a particular topic/phenomenon. In the case of psychological disorders, a lack of understanding can give the wrong impression that all people with psychological disorders are violent, cannot function sufficiently and are trouble makers. This perception is often magnified when the media highlights people with mental disorders are the minority who commit crimes, cause disruptions and do not contribute to society.

International research shows otherwise. Recent statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Psychological disorders are placed among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with psychological disorders.

Combating stigma is by no means an easy and simplified task. Stigma leads to discrimination where the sufferers of psychological disorders become isolated and even become targets of humiliating remarks within the very community they hope to seek support from. This is one of the most common reasons why persons struggling with mental disorders often do not seek help or openly talk about their mental health issues.

There are many different psychological disorders, with different presentations. They are generally characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behavior and relationships with others. Mental disorders include: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, disordered eating patterns, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders including autism. Autism is among the first psychological disorders that can be diagnosed; screening is available at 12 months of age with a diagnosis possible as early as 2 years of age.

Depression is among the most common mental disorder and one of the main causes of disability worldwide. Everyone feels sad at some point or another. Feeling sad is a normal primary emotion. We feel sad when we encounter disappointments in life. Over time, most people learn to overcome their problems or accept changes in their lives. But for others, the depression can become so severe that it dominates their lives and prevents them from coping as they used to. Depression of this degree is an illness that needs to be treated. It affects the body, mood and thoughts to a point of dysfunction; affecting eating and sleeping patterns, how one feels about oneself, and how one thinks about things. It is not something that can be simply willed away. Depression is highly treatable. When depression is recognised and treated, a person’s quality of life can be greatly improved. The same conclusion can be drawn about many other psychological disorders.

I conclude this article with a quote from the Director-General of WHO, “mental illness is not a personal failure. In fact, if there is failure, it is to be found in the way we have responded to people with mental and brain disorders.”

Dr. Sanveen Kang

About the Author - Dr. Sanveen Kang

Dr. Kang is a Clinical Psychologist by training and has more than 14 years of experience in treating mental and physical health issues for clients in hospitals, private practice, educational and corporate settings.

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