Mental Health Awareness
The week of October 7 to October 13 in the United States of America is Mental Health Awareness Week. Also, October 10th, 2018 is World Mental Health Day.
So what better time than now to write about this subject?
Some statistics and important notes
Nearly half of mental health illness occurs before the age of 14. However, mental health problems in children and teenagers often go unnoticed and untreated. Around 44 million adults in the U.S. (one in five adults or 18.5 percent) experience mental health problems each year. At the same time, mental illnesses affect 46 percent of teenagers and 13 percent of children in a given year. Also, 4 percent of adult Americans suffer from mental illness each year that significantly interferes with their normal life activities.
However, there is a growing recognition of the importance of helping both young people and adults build mental resilience in order to cope with daily challenges. Promoting and protecting mental health benefits individuals and society equally.
Mental health is the foundation of our overall well-being. It is key to our relationships, self-esteem, resilience, and ability to contribute to our community and society. Moreover, mental health is the basis for healthy emotions and thinking, positive communication, ability to learn and adapt.
What is Mental Illness?
It is important to understand that mental illness is a health condition like any other disease. It involves changes in feelings, thinking, and behavior (or any combination of these three). Mental illness causes huge distress to a person suffering and his/her family and it causes problems functioning in relationships, at work, school, and all other aspects of life.
Again, mental illness is a medical problem – just like diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Although not curable, many forms of mental health illnesses are treatable, allowing the individuals to continue with their daily lives. Early identification and action are likely to make treatment more efficient.
Research suggests that the complex causes of mental illnesses include genetics, brain structure and chemistry, life experiences, and other medical conditions.
Two most common mental health conditions include anxiety disorders and mood disorders. According to the World Health Organization, by 2020, depression will become the second leading cause of disability globally.
Similarly, more than 18 percent of adults experience some type of anxiety disorder each year. These commonly include generalized anxiety disorder (which I have!), specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and panic disorder.
Mental Health Stigma
Nevertheless, only half of the people who suffer from mental illness receive treatment. One of the major reasons people in general, and men, in particular, avoid seeking professional help is the stigma attached to mental health.
Mental illness stigma often causes those suffering to withdraw from their social circles. It also prevents them from pursuing education, getting a job, and actively participating in their community.
I can personally attest to that.
Why is Mental Health Awareness Important?
Self-acceptance starts with gratitude for what we have. However, self-love also starts with getting help when we need it. A lot of people with mental health problems remain unnoticed and untreated because they are ashamed to talk openly about their illness and seek help.
The best ways to tackle mental health stigma include open communication about mental illness, readiness to spread awareness, and willingness to offer and accept support.
Challenging the Stigma
Removing the stigma from mental illness is essential in encouraging people to talk about their mental health issues and seek help. Mental health disorders should not remain concealed. The best ways to change public attitudes toward mental illness include interaction with people with mental illness, open communication, education, and in my opinion – social marketing campaigns.
However, individuals have an important role in providing support and reducing stigma and discrimination. We can challenge mental health stigma through learning and sharing facts about mental illness and mental health, sharing our personal experiences, offering support and discouraging any form of labeling and discrimination.
Promote Physical Activity
Research shows that regular physical exercise can have a very positive effect on our mental health. Physical activity positively impacts anxiety and depression, boosts resilience, enhances self-esteem, and improves mood. Studies suggest that a moderate amount of daily exercise can make a difference in our mental health.
For example, running promotes a series of changes in the brain, such as neural growth and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calmness and happiness. Furthermore, running releases endorphins, increasing their level in our blood. You may have heard of these powerful neurochemicals as natural pain relievers or ‘hormones of happiness’. They trigger the growth of new cells and connections in our brain, very similar to what antidepressant medicaments therapy does. To put it simply, they make us feel happy and composed.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the existing moment and completely aware of it, without trying to interpret, judge or overreact to it. Mindfulness practice means training our brain to be fully attending to what is happening to us and around us at the present moment.
A growing body of research suggests the various benefits of mindfulness to our mental health. Mindfulness leads to relaxation and boosts our stress resilience. Moreover, the mindful practice can improve our concentration and memory, spark gratitude, and enhance the intuition.
Also, mindfulness can boost our self-awareness, self-control and empathy, and help us use more conscious control over our behavior.
In addition, research showed that mindful meditation can literally rewire our brain – mindfulness reduces the activity in the amygdala. This cluster of neurons in the brain’s limbic system plays a key role in processing emotions and it is a starting point for our stress response. Reducing the amygdala’s activity, mindfulness reduces the background level of stress and anxiety.
Spread Mental Health Awareness
The main reason why stigma against mental illness is still powerful lies in lack of education and media stereotypes. Advocating within your circles of influence can help protect the rights of people with mental illness. It can help make sure that the people who experience mental health problems have the same rights and opportunities like other members of the community.
Furthermore, showing respect and acceptance to those who suffer from mental illness removes a huge barrier to successfully coping with their health issues. Showing people that you see them as persons and not their illness can significantly change their own attitude towards mental health and prevent self-stigma.
So what are you doing for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek? #WorldMentalHealthDay?
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