What is mental health?
Being mentally healthy doesn’t just mean that you don’t have a mental health problem.
If you’re in good mental health, you can:
- make the most of your potential
- cope with life
- play a full part in your family, workplace, community and among friends.
Some people call mental health ‘emotional health’ or ‘well-being’ and it’s just as important as good physical health.
Mental health is everyone’s business. We all have times when we feel down or stressed or frightened. Most of the time those feelings pass. But sometimes they develop into a more serious problem and that could happen to any one of us.
Everyone is different. You may bounce back from a setback while someone else may feel weighed down by it for a long time.
Your mental health doesn’t always stay the same. It can change as circumstances change and as you move through different stages of your life.
There’s a stigma attached to mental health problems. This means that people feel uncomfortable about them and don’t talk about them much. Many people don’t even feel comfortable talking about their feelings. But it’s healthy to know and say how you’re feeling.
What are mental health problems?
Mental health problems range from the worries we all experience as part of everyday life to serious long-term conditions. The majority of people who experience mental health problems can get over them or learn to live with them, especially if they get help early on.
Mental health problems are usually defined and classified to enable professionals to refer people for appropriate care and treatment. But some diagnoses are controversial and there is much concern in the mental health field that people are too often treated according to or described by their label. This can have a profound effect on their quality of life. Nevertheless, diagnoses remain the most usual way of dividing and classifying symptoms into groups.
Most mental health symptoms have traditionally been divided into groups called either ‘neurotic’ or ‘psychotic’ symptoms. ‘Neurotic’ covers those symptoms which can be regarded as severe forms of ‘normal’ emotional experiences such as depression, anxiety or panic. Conditions formerly referred to as ‘neuroses’ are now more frequently called ‘common mental health problems.’
Less common are ‘psychotic’ symptoms, which interfere with a person’s perception of reality, and may include hallucinations such as seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things that no one else can. Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, not personal weaknesses.
Mental health problems are very common
As found by the APMS (2014), 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem.
Anxiety and depression are the most common problems, with around 1 in 10 people affected at any one time.
How do mental health problems affect people?
Anxiety and depression can be severe and long-lasting and have a big impact on people’s ability to get on with life.
Between one and two in every 100 people experience a severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and have periods when they lose touch with reality. People affected may hear voices, see things no one else sees, hold unusual or irrational beliefs, feel unrealistically powerful, or read particular meanings into everyday events.
Although certain symptoms are common in specific mental health problems, no two people behave in exactly the same way when they are unwell.
Many people who live with a mental health problem or are developing one try to keep their feelings hidden because they are afraid of other people’s reactions. And many people feel troubled without having a diagnosed, or diagnosable, mental health problem – although that doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling to cope with daily life.
What is good mental health?
Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable mental health problems, although good mental health is likely to help protect against development of many such problems.
Good mental health is characterised by a person’s ability to fulfill a number of key functions and activities, including:
• the ability to learn
• the ability to feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions
• the ability to form and maintain good relationships with others
• the ability to cope with and manage change and uncertainty.
What is mental illness?
Mental illness is a term that covers many mental health issues. A mental health problem might also be called a mental disorder, poor mental health, a nervous breakdown, burnout, or a psychiatric illness to name a few.
Mental health problems are health conditions. There are often changes in thinking, mood, and/or behaviour (or a combination of these). The person may be distressed and/or have impaired functioning. For example, the person may have trouble going to work or doing daily activities.
Mental health problems can cause a big change in the way a person thinks, their emotions, the way they act, and their ability to work and carry on with their usual relationships.
How many people are affected by mental illness?
According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015, every 3 in 10 adult Malaysians aged 16 years and above have some sorts of mental health problems (29.2%). The prevalence of mental health problems among adults has increased from 10.7% in 1996, to 11.2% in 2006, to 29.2% in 2015.
Prevalence of mental health problems in children are: peer problem (32.5%), conduct problems (16.7%), emotional problems (e.g. anxiety, depression, 15.7%), pro-social skill (11.2%) and hyperactivity (4.6%).
There are only 360 registered psychiatrists registered in the public and private sectors. The ratio of psychiatrists to the Malaysian population is 1:200,000 (1:10,000 is recommended by WHO).
Mental illness is expected to be the second biggest health problem affecting Malaysians after heart diseases by 2020.
What are the more common types of mental illnesses or mental health problems?
Although there are many types of mental health problems, the most common ones are depression and anxiety.
Depression affects about 2 million Canadians age 20 years and older at some point in their lives. Depression is often seen with other mental health problems and with physical illnesses like heart disease, stroke, and physical disabilities. About 2.5 million Canadians 20 years and older live with an anxiety disorder.
Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (manic depression) are less common but can have a huge affect to the quality of life of people living with these illnesses.
What causes mental illness?
There is no one cause of mental illness or mental health problems. It is most likely several factors coming together. For example, we are learning that many of the major mental illnesses involve chemical imbalances in the body.
Mental health problems are:
- biological: linked with problems with chemistry in the brain or other body system
- psychological: linked with issues with thought or emotion
- social: linked with life events and stresses
Mental health professionals look at all three of these when they design a plan for dealing with the problem or illness.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, biological factors that may affect whether someone becomes seriously mentally ill include:
• damage done before birth
• birth trauma
• viral infection
• brain chemistry
Genetics may play a part, too. Studies show that close relatives of someone with schizophrenia or an affective disorder (like bipolar disorder) are much more likely to have the same illness. However, people don’t inherit the illness itself. They just inherit the tendency to get it.
Psychological and social factors could include:
• lack of support from relationships
• child abuse
• family violence
• major changes in life
Is mental illness a “real” disease?
Yes! Mental illness is no different than cancer or diabetes. It has both genetic and biological causes and can be treated.
How do I help a friend, family member, someone I know, or co-worker who I believe may have a mental health problem?
Knowing the signs and symptoms of someone with a mental health problem is the first step. Mental Health First Aid Canada, which is based on the model of medical first aid, teaches people how to help someone showing signs of a mental health problem or going through a mental health crisis.
One of the ways you can help someone who you think is going through a mental health problem is encourage them to see their family doctor, a psychologist, or a qualified mental health therapist.
Another way to help someone going through a mental health problem is to simply listen (without judging) and reassure them that you will help them get the help they need.
Why is it so hard to talk about mental illness?
It’s hard because there’s such a stigma attached to it. A stigma is the product of myth and misunderstanding. It causes people to fear and reject those who live with mental illness. Society doesn’t view mental illness and physical illness in the same way. Just as people can recover from heart disease and recover from their condition, they can recover from mental illness to lead full, balanced, and productive lives.
If a person is strong, can’t they beat mental illness?
Mental illness is not caused because someone is weak or there is something wrong with who they are as a person. A person can’t just “snap out of it”.
Who is more susceptible to mental illness?
Mental illness can happen to anyone, of any age, culture, education, and income level.
Once someone has been diagnosed with a mental illness, will they ever get better?
With support and treatment, people with mental illnesses can lead full and productive lives.
How can I tell if someone is suicidal?
There is no clear list of warning signs for someone who is thinking about suicide. However, sudden changes in actions, behaviour, or attitude are some of the warning signs. On the other hand, someone who is thinking about suicide may not show any warning signs.
If you are concerned that someone you know may be at risk, ask if they are thinking about suicide. One of the ways to get help fast is by calling crisis line like The Befrienders Malaysia.
Other resources in your community include:
• community leader or Elder
• school or work counselling service
• hospital emergency department
• social workers
• mental health workers
How many people die by suicide each year?
The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that 1 million people will die by suicide this year — 1 death every 40 seconds around the world.