Understanding mental health

Azlan Othman

Causes, effects and remedies to overcome issues pertaining to mental health were highlighted recently by the Health Promotion Centre (HPC), Ministry of Health (MoH) during a talk to a group of officers and staff at [email protected] Sdn Bhd at Salambigar light industrial area.

According to Scientific Officer at the HPC Dr Siti Hasanah binti Haji Hassan, it is fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life. Everyone has mental health, but everyone will have different levels at different points in their lives.

She also said that everyone has mental health, but not everyone has a mental illness. A health condition, much like physical illness, alters the way people think, feel and behave, affects their day-to-day living and their ability to relate to others over a long period of time.

It is also associated with distress or impaired functioning in social, work or family activities. Poor mental health may lead to mental and physical illnesses.

There is a misconception among members of the public that mental health problems are uncommon. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that “one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives”.

Currently, 450 million people are experiencing such conditions. As WHO explains, mental disorders are among the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide.

There is another misconception that mental health problems are a sign of weakness. Mental illness is a health condition. People fighting a mental illness are vulnerable, but not ‘weak’ or ‘crazy’. They have an illness with challenging symptoms, not different from anyone with a physical illness (such as diabetes or a broken leg). They are human and susceptible.

Another misconception lingering around is that mental health problems only affect adults. Mental illness is not limited to certain types of people. Anyone can experience poor mental health, just like anyone can experience poor physical health. The MoH’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are seeing patients as young as 14 years old being diagnosed with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorder.

Common types of mental illness are depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and eating disorder.

Depression is chronic sadness, loss of interest and/or pleasure, feelings of excessive guilt or low self-worth, changes in eating habits or significant weight-loss or –gain, changes in sleeping pattern, fatigue and loss of energy, poor concentration and indecisiveness, recurrent suicidal ideation, excessive isolation, long-lasting or recurrent and Impaired functioning that interferes with daily life.

Meanwhile, anxiety disorder is excessive worrying, feeling agitated (racing pulse, sweaty palms, dry mouth, shaky hands), restless or ‘on the edge’, easily fatigued, muscle tension, irritable, difficulty concentrating or mind going blank, changes in sleeping pattern, panic attacks, avoiding social situations, long-lasting or recurrent and Impaired functioning or interferes with daily life.

The HPC also highlighted stress that can affect people in different ways. People respond to stress differently, depending on how they perceive it. Some stress is necessary to keep us alert and occupied, however if frequent and intense, may cause harm.

Stress is not a mental illness but if it goes on for a long time, it can lead to a more serious health problem such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder, and other illnesses.

Physically, the effects of unmanaged stress are that it can cause headaches or dizziness, muscle tension: jaw or shoulder or back, fatigue, sleep disturbance, constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion and high blood pressure.

Mentally, it causes anxiety, worry, anger or irritable, sad or low mood or tearful, feeling overwhelmed difficulty concentrating, forgetful and low self-esteem. In terms of behaviour, it causes one to eat too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little, outbursts of anger, strained relationships, alcohol, smoking or drug abuse and avoiding people or certain places.

Burnout was also touched upon. It is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Burnout is characterised by three dimensions such as feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.

To protect one’s mental health, one needs to eat a healthy, balanced diet, with flavours that you enjoy, incorporate whole foods from various major food groups, and do more of the things you enjoy with no guilt nor judgement.

One should also do regular exercise such as to move more and make it fun. Such exercise must also be low-moderate intensity exercises. One must also have adequate sleep of six to nine hours nightly, regulate hormones, build a sleep routine and reduce caffeine intake. One can also protect mental health by talking to a trusted friend, be honest about emotions and create meaningful conversations.