Is Mental Health the same as a Mental Problem?

Holistic Wellness & Mental Health

We often hear the terms ‘Mental Health’ and ‘Mental problem’. Although they vastly differ in their meaning, many people tend to confuse them with one another and use them as a substitute for each other. It is inappropriate, and therefore, it is very essential to understand the meaning of these terms to enable their use in the right context without causing any confusion or misunderstanding.

Understanding the difference.

If people ask, “How is your physical health?” are they referring to a physical problem? No, they are not. It is just a general question asking about one’s health and people are okay with it. However, if someone asks, “How is your mental health?” this question is frowned down upon. Why??

We get on guard, our defensive mechanisms consciously or unconsciously come into play, and we take it as a highly personal and offensive question. This may be because the moment one hears the word ‘mental’, it begins to form a negative pattern in the mind.

One needs to understand that just as the word ‘physical’ is to do with the physical body; the word ‘mental’ relates to the mind.

Hence, it is important to differentiate between mental health and mental problem and not carry any undesired excess baggage.

Mental health is the state of well-being of the mind and refers to the emotional and cognitive capabilities of an individual to contribute to and meet the daily expectations in one’s eco-system. It comprises our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act, how we handle stress, relate to others, and make life choices.

It is important at every stage of life, from childhood to adulthood. Various factors like traumatic situations during childhood, difficult relationships, work-related concerns, financial constraints, physical health problems, etc. affect one’s mental health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that mental health is “more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.”

Peak mental health is not only about managing active conditions but also looking after ongoing wellness and happiness. It also emphasizes that preserving and restoring mental health is crucial individually and at a community and society level.

The concept of mental health is a major global concern affecting all countries and therefore, India is no exception. When one looks at the developments and achievements in this field, they have not been able to match up to the concerns existing across the globe.

Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), in 1954, had presciently declared, “Without mental health, there can be no true physical health.” Hence, we all need to realise and understand how vital mental health is and what it entails. 

Do’s around Mental Health

It is also critical to take care of the following areas around mental health:

  • Doing away with the stigma attached to it
  • Recognising the symptoms of adversities that could affect mental health
  • Increasing the methods to prevent the above
  • Promoting the act of sharing and talking about it to reduce the severity of its harmful effects
  • Encouraging communities and relevant groups to spread awareness and take the necessary courses of action to achieve the desired outcome

As per those who have conducted campaigns across our country and the globe to spread mental health awareness and address stigma-related matters, the results have been quite positive. Some of the strategies have included the active participation of family members, people’s openness, readiness for treatment, and social inclusion.

However, certain challenges which exist in providing mental health services are its pace and more so in most low- and middle-income countries, its priority as against general health priorities, insufficient funding, lack of trained personnel, etc.

Mental Problems

If the state of mental health is not positive, it can have a long-lasting negative impact on overall health and wellness.  This impact may lead to mental problems – some severe and others not so.

Therefore, it is very essential to recognise the early signs of the onset of such problems to enable an individual to take necessary proactive action for the desired long-term outcomes. If one has to detect these early signs, one needs to be educated about them, both in terms of awareness and the relevant knowledge to tackle the situation.

Mental problems may be of various kinds and are prevalent across all sections of society, especially the youth – stress, acute depression, uncontrollable anger, and much more.

Attitude towards Mental health problems (MHP)

People need to be open and adopt help-seeking behaviour, beliefs, and attitudes. As per studies and research on this matter, the findings were that adolescents preferred adopting informal sources to include family members rather than formal sources for seeking help for self than for others. This goes to show their fear and attitude toward stigma-related issues towards mental health problems.

These problems have been one of the main causes for the loss of person-days at work leading to huge losses for the youth and organisations. In many cases, if these problems go undetected and neglected without timely intervention and treatment, it could also lead to severe irreversible mental health conditions including death.

Measures to alleviate MHP

This reflects a dire need to promote literacy on mental health and its associated problems so that every citizen in the country can seek help from valid and formal sources and gain the required knowledge on whom to address for help – without fear of stigma.

With the advent of the pandemic, the realisation and importance of mental health have increased. So that neglected mental health does not lead to mental problems, certain measures, which are now becoming popular to propagate its importance and implementation, are government policies, active media including social media, celebrities coming out in the open to discuss their own mental health problems, amending educational system, changing view of organisations, aggressive use of technology, etc.

These measures could also go a long way to help alleviate and eliminate the menace of mental health-related problems.

 Ajay Mahajan & Sadhana Rao

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