Mental health is an integral part of our overall health. It is a state of well-being in which an individual maintains a balance between all aspects of his / her life - social, physical, spiritual and emotional. In this state an individual is able to realize his or her potential, cope with normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness.
We can say someone is mentally healthy if he or she successfully performs of his or her mental functions, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and has the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity.
Characteristics of a Mentally Healthy Person
Some of the characteristics of a mentally healthy person are: The ability to enjoy life, resilience (ability to bounce back from adversity), balance (balance between time spent socially and alone, work and play, sleep and wakefulness, rest and exercise, time spent indoors and outdoors), flexibility (ability to accommodate others opinions / views), self- actualization (recognition of ones potentials and setting to actualize them)
Characteristics of a Mentally Ill Person
Mental illness refers to all mental disorders. The characteristics of mental disorders include: alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress, and/ or impaired functioning.
What causes mental illness?
Multiple factors contribute to the onset of mental illness. These include: Genetic (heredity), environmental and social stressors, biological make up and psychological trauma.
Genetics: Mental illnesses may be passed on from parents to children through genes; however, it is important to know that having mental illness in the family does not mean one will develop the illness. It simply means you are more likely to get the disease than if you didn’t have an affected family member.
Environmental and Social Stressors: Environmental stressors such as: death or divorce, a dysfunctional family life, changing of jobs /joblessness or change of schools, substance abuse etc. can trigger a disorder in a person who may be at risk.
Biological make up: Some mental illnesses have their genesis linked to abnormal balance of special chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are secreted in the brain and they facilitate communication between the nerve cells in the brain. Consequently, in the event that there is a defect (under-secretion or hyper-secretion) related to the levels of these chemicals causing imbalance, or making them not to work properly, messages transmitted becomes incorrect leading to symptoms of mental illness. In addition, injury to certain areas of the brain especially accidents in which an individual sustains a head injury lead to an onset of some mental conditions.
Psychological Trauma: Psychological trauma leading to severe emotional disturbance, physical, or sexual abuse or significant loss e.g. loss of a parent and neglect in early child hood, loss of a sibling, loss of a spouse or loss of a job, may trigger onset of some certain mental illnesses.
There are no adequate measures to prevent mental illness; however, we can maintain our mental health.
Maintaining Mental Health
As stated above, we may not be able to prevent mental illness. Here are some suggestions on some key areas we need to consider in maintaining our mental health:
- Paying attention to lifestyle – A balance between work, study, family life and leisure is essential. What percentage of your day’s time do you allocate to each of these areas of your life? Your mental health can disintegrate if there is gross imbalance and lack of quality in any of the stated areas above.
- Maintaining healthy social contacts -Healthy social contacts with other people whom we enjoy their company helps us maintain our social well-being. This can be at work place, school, college, home and other social places.
- Reviewing our lives often – From time to time we need to reflect on what our aims and goals in life are and whether we taking the right steps to achieve them. Feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled in life can lead to mental health disturbance.
- Awareness of mind – body interaction – Our state of mental health can affect our physical health and the reverse is also true that our physical health state can affect our mental health.
- Having confidants – it is important to have someone to whom you can confide to in life. This can be a friend, teacher, workmate or a family member whom you can go to when faced with overwhelming life challenges.
- Awareness of what can go wrong – Be conscious of what can go wrong. Tiredness, irritability, disturbed relationships if ignored might lead to serious stress – related problems
- Taking steps to resolve problems – Sweeping problems under the carpet does not help. Be aware of conflicts / problems and seek help if necessary and endeavor to resolve them.