Misunderstood Mental Health


 Illustration credits: Gizem Vural

A sector least understood and a way forward

By Aamir Bashir and Wasim Rashid Kakroo

EVER heard the popular saying “health is wealth”? This gives large meaning to our life, as health is considered the most valuable and precious thing for every individual. Therefore, it is pertinent to explore different dimensions of health. Before moving forward let us try to understand what the word “health” means.

The World Health Organization defines health as,”’a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, 1948). It can be easily inferred from the above definition that health not only constitutes physical health but also mental and social health.

Since mental health is part of overall health, it is as important as physical health. Unfortunately, mental health is one of the most neglected aspects of health in the developing world, however we can never deny the fact that health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit and thus we can say that mental health and physical health are closely connected.

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community, (World health organization).

So, we may say that mental health is a positive state of mind. Being mentally healthy means reaching one’s full potential, living satisfying lives, being emotionally resilient and being able to cope with daily stresses of life, feeling in control, feeling good about yourself, managing and expressing your emotions, building and maintaining good relationships.

It is easy to ignore mental health over physical health  

We all know what taking care of our physical health looks like: eating right, exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep. But do you know how to take care of your mental health? Neglecting your mental health can be easy, especially because it’s not something we are always taught or reminded to prioritize.

While exploring the reasons behind our negligence towards mental health, the following points can be considered:

  1. We are too busy to give time to mental health: It’s all too common to put mental health on the backburner. Between family responsibilities, work obligations, and social situations, it’s no wonder why very few of us actually find time in the day to day routine to take care of our mental health.

  2. It is a Taboo To Talk About Your Feelings: So many of us, especially men, are taught to not talk about our feelings. From a very young age, we’re told to “just suck it up” and are told that showing any kind of emotions is weak. We tell a crying child, “Me aes wadaan, wadun chunei jaan” (Don’t cry, crying isn’t good). But this is an extremely detrimental attitude, both to our relationships and our mental health. Emotions are a key aspect of connection and connection is a key aspect of mental health.

  1. Lack of mental health awareness: Many people believe that being physically fit means being healthy; they don’t even acknowledge the existence of mental aspects of health and related issues.

  1. Bizarre explanation of mental health issues: If we feel that somebody is behaving erratically and our day to day understandings of behavior fail to explain such behaviors as happens in various mental health issues, we ascribe such behaviors either to evil eye or evil spirits. In Kashmir, we say, Amis haez che nazar legmich (He’s been accursed by evil eye) or Amis haez chu tasruf gomut or Amis haz chu hazir gasaan (He’s jinxed/accursed) and thus we lose our chance of thinking about such issues seriously.

Relationship between physical and mental health:

It is said that a sound mind lies in a sound body. This popular dictum in itself is enough to understand the relationship between physical and mental health. Physical and mental health is interdependent. The two should not be thought of as separate. We usually understand that poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems. However, we don’t consider that poor mental health can have a negative impact on physical health, leading to an increased risk for some conditions. Mental health plays a major role in people’s ability to maintain good physical health. Mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, affect people’s ability to participate in health-promoting behaviors.

What’s more is that neglecting your mental health can lead to or exacerbate serious health complications such as: heart disease, high blood pressure, weak immune system, Asthma, obesity, gastronomical problems, premature death etc. For instance, depression alone can cause chronic fatigue, insomnia and increased sensitivity to aches and pains due to abnormal function of neurotransmitters in the brain. People with depression often have worse physical health, as well as worse self-perceived health, than those without depression. Poor mental health can lead to poor lifestyle choices. For example, people with depression have been found to eat more junk food, stay idle and choose less active life leading to serious health issues such as obesity and cardiovascular problems.

Importance of mental health awareness:

Awareness is a form of education.  The more you know the more power you have.  Knowledge is power. This power can cause a positive effect on our community and help mobilize the resources towards better mental health. Mental health awareness increases the chances for early intervention, which can help patients to receive timely appropriate care and can result in a fast recovery. Awareness reduces negative adjectives that have been set to describe our people with a mental illness. By raising awareness, mental health issues can now be seen as issues of concern and the public can be made more sensitive towards discussing such issues and looking for their treatment. Thus our point is that mental health awareness should be taken as seriously as physical health awareness for conditions, such as diabetes, blood pressure, or cancer.

Awareness also eliminates stigma for people who battle with various mental health problems. Stigma refers to the opinions and thoughts of the community about something ill understood or misunderstood. Stigma shames mentally ill people. It creates a community where minds are closed off and rejects acceptance of those who are “different”. Commonly held attitudes and behaviors about something in the public sphere move a community into either a positive or negative trend.  If there is a negative trend then the implications may cause a combination of denial and hatred. Awareness can also create new understandings for the mentally ill. As the demand from the public about the information related to this issue increases, it can produce a flow of attention in this direction.  This attention can eventually result in great changes for the mentally ill.  It can lead to improvements in policy, research, and service development.

In addition, there is great bias towards people with mental illnesses. Many think that these people are lazy or just making it up. There is also the attitude that these people are crazy, possessed by demons, violent, out of control and unsafe. However, these are negative labels that have been attached due to the lack of awareness. Raising awareness can address such misconceptions. Awareness is key for understanding what mental health is and how families can receive the help they need. Public knowledge is important in accessing and mobilizing community resources.  In short, lack of awareness of mental health is not just “their” problem; it is our problem as a community.

Costs involved in ignoring mental health: 

Ignoring the area of mental health can have huge consequences for the economy of the country as it leads to burden on the already taxed resources. It can also lead to more and more stigmatization of people with mental health issues. Not investing in the sector of mental health may lead to underutilization of human resources and human potential as one needs to take care of his or her mental health in order to realize the God given gifts and potential to take humanity to newer heights.

  • Aamir Bashir is a Mental health counselor at IMHANS and Wasim Rashid Kakroo is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist who works at IMHANS  

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