Mental health: It’s never late to seek help

On this Mental Health Day, let us all pledge to keep our minds happy and friends close 
Mental health: It’s never late to seek help

KOCHI: Since 1992, the World Mental Health Federation has been observing October 10 as World Mental Health Day. Many world organisations and NGOs come together to use this day to spread the word about mental health. This year, the theme of World Mental Health Day is ‘mental health for all; greater investment, greater access, everyone, everywhere’. This theme rightly points to the need of the hour - to make standard mental health care accessible and affordable to everyone all over the world. An unexpected pandemic, the lockdown that followed and it’s socio-economic impact has sent a large section of the global population through unparalleled, unprecedented stress.

The prevalence of depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and somatoform disorders have increased. A large number of suicides are also being reported by people of all age groups. The stress experienced by health care workers is another area of grave concern.Even before the onset of the pandemic, the issue of accessibility to mental health care was an issue that affected many in our country.

A survey conducted by Kerala State Mental Health Authority in 2016 had identified that 12.8 per cent of the population in Kerala is suffering from at least one mental health problem that required treatment. The survey also pointed out that 9 per cent of the state’s population is are suffering from clinical depression.

The unfortunate fact is that only 15 per cent people who suffer mental health problems receive scientific treatment to help them through it. There are three very important factors affecting this treatment gap.The first is a lack of mental health literacy among the public. Though the state is considered 100 per cent literate, with a large section of the people highly educated, scientific knowledge about mental health problems is severely lacking here. Many are ignorant about the fact that mental disorders are essentially disorders of the functioning of the brain, and can be common. They are also oblivious to the fact that mental illnesses can be effectively controlled if treated in initial stages.

The stigma prevalent in society regarding mental illnesses is the second issue. Many people hide the fact that they suffer mental disturbances due to the fear of being ostracized by society. People who have been treated for mental illness are blacklisted for marriage proposals or even employment. If mental disturbances are properly treated and controlled, there is absolutely no problem in leading a married life or working to earn a living.

Lack of access to mental health care services is the third barrier. Many people still believe that they have to go to hospitals or Mental health centres to get treatment for mental illnesses. But the reality is that services of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are available in all district hospitals and general hospitals as well. Moreover, all the fourteen districts in the state have a fully functioning District Mental health program ( DMHP), in which a mental health team under the leadership of a  psychiatrist visits selected primary health centres once in a month, and provides treatment to patients there. So utilisation of all these services can improve access to mental health care.

Fifty per cent of all mental illnesses begin before 14 years, while 75 per cent begin before 24 years. So, early identification and intervention are of utmost importance in preventing long term complications. The Harward Human Development Study which began in 1938 has proved that the quality of human relationships developed in life, especially during childhood and adolescence accounts to longevity. In the days of this physical distancing, let’s all pledge to keep ourselves mentally connected so that we can be of service to those in destress.   The author is a consultant psychiatrist at Medical College, Trivandrum 

Make a small difference

What can you do if you find a person in your family, neighbourhood or workplace suffering from a mental health issues? A friend or acquaintance, without any formal training in mental health care, can do something called ‘mental health first aid’ in such situations. 
Approach the person and proactively enquire what’s troubling him. 
Patiently and non judgementally listen to him while he is narrating his problems. A feeling that someone is willing to listen maybe a source of great relief.
Give him the necessary scientific and factual information to correct his misconceptions, if any. 
If problems are still persisting, encourage him to consult a competent mental health professional and take appropriate treatment. 
Ensure social support to the person in distress. We should ensure that they are not isolated. It’s the responsibility of the family members, neighbours, friends, colleagues, and society at large to see that he receives enough social and emotional support.

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The New Indian Express