By Heli Haribhakti for Twisted Tiara
“We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.”– Alan Watts.
This World Mental Health Day, we want to get to the basics of dealing with our thoughts and emotions. The only thing that separates humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom is our sentient minds. It would be an oversight if we didn’t take care of this organ that makes us human. Specially in a time like ours when information, opinions and perspectives are available for literally everything, which can easily confuse, contradict or even make you question belief systems; it is difficult to focus on ‘our’ thoughts. In such a time, it becomes all the more important to take care of our mental health concerns instead of letting them fester into issues.
Understanding and De-stigmatising Mental ‘Health’ v Mental ‘Illness’
Our ‘mental health’ is what deals with, and is the most affected by the pleasures and pain in our lives. World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Physical well-being is when the body is fit and free from illness or injury. Social well-being is the ability of a person to maintain social stability through good public and personal relationships. We also need to understand the third, equally important but most stigmatised and overlooked, aspect of health: mental health.
‘Mental health’ is often misunderstood with ‘mental illness’, and is disparaged in society. Mental health talks about emotional and psychological well-being. It is our very emotions and feelings, our thoughts and our ability to overcome difficulties. It helps us function in the society with a good understanding of the world. Contrast with mental illness’, which are defined as “condition(s) which causes serious disorder in a person’s behaviour or thinking.”
Mental health concerns and illness’ are often overlooked because they are not as apparent and symptoms may not be physical. If, however, we talk about evidence, brain scans have shown actual physical difference between a healthy and a sick brain. The brain is an organ that can malfunction as much as any other organ. Since it is in charge of all organ functions’, it is that much more important to take it seriously when it requires care and help; in daily life and not just in case of an illness. Not everyone will experience mental illness in their lifetime. But everyone has “mental health” and do struggle with their “mental well-being” at some point in their life. Understanding that is the key to building a more empathetic society.
Mental Health and Well-being
Mental health and wellbeing concerns can range from stress at work, loss of dear one, recovery post an accident, etc. to insomnia, anxiety, seasonal depression. The little things add up. Not dealing with things, leads to bottling up of emotions which is why you may find yourself crying over a memory, you had repressed, or being infuriated by a fragrance from your past. It is imperative to take care of your mental health, just like you would take care of your physical fitness. You do not just dream of having a healthy mind, you must put in the work to achieve it.
Get yourself a mental health spotter
Just as you would ask a gym buddy to spot you on the bench, it is okay to ask for help when you are struggling with your mental health and well-being. Mental illness is not a pre-requisite to ask for help or go to therapy. It is okay to not be okay! It is okay to get help, go for therapy, and talk it out with a mental health professional. It would be the sensible thing to do overing suffering in silence and festering in issues. It is as sensible as joining a gym, yoga or any physical fitness class, or getting a check-up and medicine for a fever or any physical sickness. Struggle with mental health does not necessarily mean you have a mental illness.
Mental health can be described on a wide-ranging spectrum. For this introductory article, we will focus on the 3 most common mental health struggles, which any normal person can face, at any point in their life. We know that prevention is better than cure. So, take a moment to think about if and how you relate to the following. Or do you notice the signs and symptoms in a loved one? Do not be afraid to actively seek out or offer help for it. Every problem and struggle is valid and solvable, no matter how big or small.
Sleep related problems
It can range from difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep, or waking up early, or disturbed sleep quality resulting in lethargy or waking up fatigued, to excessive daytime sleep. It is normal to experience any of those things occasionally, but if it is happening regularly then it is smart to get a professional opinion and seek help. Irrespective of the cause, sleep deprivation can have consequences that can affect our mental health (and physical too) if left unchecked over a long period of time. “Inadequate quantity or quality of sleep that interferes with normal daytime functioning”, can be occasional, chronic or acute. Mental health is not a one size fits all.
Stress related problems.
We, as humans, have capacity to recover quickly from difficult situations and setbacks in life. But sometimes either the situation is too stressful and/or we are running low on our resilience. Considering our current lifestyle, we are living in continual stress without even realising it. Working towards that insta fame, paying off education debts, or home loans, saving for a future, all the while socialising so that we don’t miss out. It may also include medical emergencies, financial problems, family or relationship problems, death, loss and grief, toxic work environment or job loss, natural disaster, etc. All of this can lead to build up of stress and eventually take a toll on our mental health. How we deal with this lack of resilience is important in deciding the outcome of the said difficult situation, and also for long-term psychological consequences. Again, it is smart to reach out for help during such situations. Taking self-care seriously is a great way to handle stressful situations, along with learning coping mechanisms from therapy. After all, you can rub two stones to light a fire, but it helps to have the right tools, like a lighter or match stick.
Substance related problems.
An easy escape from the stress related problems is substance use. Not knowing when to stop is the real problem, which leads to substance abuse. Substance abuse is not age or gender specific. It can take the form of adrenaline high in teenagers, peer pressure to look ‘cool’ in the young adults, or a way of distraction from life problems for adults. It is one of the most common issues severely affecting our mental health before it starts showing signs on the physical health. That is why it is detected late. Mental health problem increases with the increasing and prolonged use and abuse of alcohol or drugs. It is a misconception that substance abuse alleviates your problems or can make you happy; it is form of denial to deal with underlying problems. You cannot untangle your headphone wires, just by staring at them. You must manually do so. The healthiest way is to accept it as a problem and take active steps in getting professional help for recovering from it.
Encouraging and Embracing Self-Care
Something as simple as not feeling good for a prolonged period of time is a valid reason to go to therapy. Suicide rates in India are on the rise. Statistics show there is still a large group of people who are either not aware about mental health concerns and illnesses, or are struggling with the stigma. Today we are much more aware about the importance of mental health than our previous generations. We should consider it our responsibility to remove the stigma still attached with getting the necessary help for it. If you or someone you know is struggling, seek help before you seek to end.
Speaking from personal experience, I benefit daily from my therapy sessions and have recommended it to friends and family as much as possible, also resulting in positive feedback. Every day should be mental health day. There is no shame in taking care of yourself or to paying attention to your mental health. It is perfectly normal. It is what makes us human. Lord knows our world is in dire need of a more humane and healthier population.