Destigmatizing mental illness

It is a well-known fact that American army general and statesman Dwight D Eisenhower, one of the most respected military figures of the 20th century, was a depressed and bitter man, having been denied the opportunity to experience actual combat during World War I. Then, in the autumn of 1920, he met Fox Conner, who is largely remembered as “the man who made Eisenhower”. But for Conner’s influence, Eisenhower might have remained a disillusioned man and drifted into obscurity.

Eisenhower is hardly an exception. A common thread running through the lives of most successful individuals happens to be the presence of that one person who helped them achieve their true potential. Anyone who struggles through issues like stress, depression, anxiety and related mental health issues will struggle to realize their real potential.

According to a study by World Health Organisation (WHO) (reported on World Mental Health Day, observed every year on 10th October), there are as many as 300 million people across the world struggling with depression and about 260 million suffering from anxiety disorders. The study pointed out that these health problems cost the global economy USD 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

What compound this problem further are the different social and internalised stigmas surrounding mental health. Social stigma operates when people dismiss clinical depression and anxiety issues as “crazy talk” or develop stereotypes around it. Internalized stigma, on the other hand, is when sufferers go through self-induced shame and think less of themselves. Such sense of shame often discourages people from talking about their problems or seeking treatment.

Therefore, awareness on mental health is not only meant for people suffering problems but also for healthy individuals, who knowingly or unknowingly encourage social stigma around these issues. Many organisations such as Mind, Rethink and Heads Together along with influential individuals have encouraged people to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

It is crucial that once people move past self-shaming and do seek help, they are engaged by a system that can provide quick attention and care. Mental health professionals call for more well-funded and adequately staffed services along with helplines and training programmes. But how easy is it for an individual to identify mental health problems and access support to resolve those issues?

In this context, it can be said that the availability of high-speed internet has truly come as a blessing since the services of therapists and counsellors can be accessed online. In fact, online counselling has become immensely popular nowadays as it can be accessed independent of location with the added benefit of cost-effectiveness. Online therapists are immensely helpful to people who are uncomfortable with face-to-face discussions or those who are suffering from social phobias, agoraphobias or anxiety disorders.

This arrangement works out economical for therapists too, since they can save on commercial real estate costs, operating overheads, business setup costs and commuting expenses when compared to traditional counselling services. In addition, the freedom from having to operate a fixed establishment also reduces the number of regulatory compliances. In short, online counselling is an unmitigated blessing for both practitioners as well as the people who require their services.

Experts suggest that it is important to see a doctor quickly if you or someone close to you is experiencing any of the five symptoms of depression, which is a common mental health condition. These common symptoms are depressed mood, slowed movement/ speech/ thinking, sleep disturbances, guilt feeling and suicidal thoughts. Anxiety, on the other hand, brings with it a sense of doubt about future events. Anxious people often lose sleep and are at risk of panic attacks.

Once started, it is advisable to complete the course of treatment without any discontinuation. The most commonly used method for treatment is the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that helps a person to stop thinking in a negative way. It is a short-term course that can last anywhere from two weeks to 12 weeks.

Medical health professionals recommend various changes in lifestyle to cope with depression and anxiety. Keeping notes of triggers, cultivating a new hobby, acceptance, meditation, music and work-outs are some of the popular methods to beat anxiety and depression.

It is important to note that mental illness, unlike commonly perceived, is not always caused by lifestyle choices and stressful events. A variety of genetic and environmental factors also pose challenge to mental health. Brain chemistry, genetically inherited traits, environmental exposures before/during birth, functioning of nerve receptors and chemicals also lead to psychosis and depression among other ailments.

The body responds to the way we think and feel. For example, many people complain of high blood pressure, headaches or stomach ulcer after a traumatic event, such as death of a loved one. Therefore, to ensure overall well-being, it is necessary to sort out causes of stress and anxiety that damage emotional health.

Health professional across the world are reminding schools, corporates and communities that physical fitness is incomplete without mental fitness. Even sportspersons and athletes seek counselling in difficult times. Tech enthusiasts and developers are coming up with online apps that can help people identify emotional health issues and offer different ways to cope with it.

Mental illness is not restricted to any particular age group. Right from children to elderly, anyone can be vulnerable to mental health problems. Fortunately, help is easily available for those in need. All they need to do is to reach out.

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