What is Mental Health?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

The WHO definition is often quoted and used in mental health circles.

Simply put mental health is the ability to participate in one’s own life and the community around you in a meaningful manner. It is the ability to cope with life’s challenges and problems. It is the ability to balance one’s life to experience a sense of well-being or a sense of flourishing in several areas of your life (financially, spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally and relationally).

Talking about mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness. It is also about having a sense of meaning and purpose in life and having the ability to bounce back (resilience) after some hardship.

To have a sense of mental health often requires us to investigate several areas of our lives. It is like building a wall - several bricks need to be put in place for the wall to actually stand. The same for our mental health - we need to experience a sense of health and well-being in several of our life bricks to experience a sense of mental health. In light of this perspective, it makes sense to mention the need for us to have a balanced life to actually experience mental health.


What are the signs to look out for in mental illness?

Different mental illnesses present with different symptoms but there are definitely some general symptoms to look out for. It does not always mean that when you experience the following that you have a mental illness. But it raises a flag for each one of us to pause and investigate what our mental health is like and what type of help might be needed for us to be okay.

Some signs to look out for can be:

  • Isolating oneself from friends and family - spending more time away from loved ones than what you’ve done previously.
  • A sudden or gradual decrease in doing things you previously enjoyed or spending time with people you previously enjoyed spending time with
  • Sometimes mental illness can present in physical symptoms (e.g. headaches, dizziness, chest pain, body pain, body weakness, heart palpitations)
  • Lack of motivation
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Low mood without a reason for it
  • Behavioural changes
  • Hopelessness


The risk factors for mental health:

  • Genetic - family history of mental illness
  • Trauma
  • Big life changes (loss of a loved one; separation or divorce, moving, changing jobs, financial stressors, increase or decrease in workload)
  • Abuse
  • Unhealthy family dynamics
  • Chronic illness or new diagnosis
  • Substance abuse


How can mental illness be treated?

 I think it is important to recognise that both professional and non-professional help might be necessary when we feel like our mental health is at risk. People often take quite a long time to actually ask for help or to reach out to loved ones to indicate when they are concerned about their own mental health. There might be a few reasons for this (stigma, a lack of support systems, pride, misconceptions about asking for help, etc.).

I think it is important to recognize that if you are experiencing some difficulty or are concerned about your mental health to reach out to people around you - family, friends, support groups, churches. Let someone know that you are not well and get the ball rolling on finding some help. Sometimes the support and love of family might be sufficient and at other times professional help and therapy might be needed.

 Possible treatment options include:

  • Reaching out to loved ones and letting them know that you need help or are not doing that well
  • Therapy - counselling or psychotherapy
  • Psychopharmacology - being assessed by a GP or psychiatrist and getting the right medication
  • Awareness campaigns definitely gets information out to our communities and can assist in starting up possible conversations about mental illness and mental health
  • Ensuring that you have the basic building blocks in place would be important, whether you seek professional or non-professional help - sufficient sleep, exercise/physical activity, healthy diet, healthy relationships, routine and structure to your day, leisure activities or hobbies and a healthy support system


What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

Treatment of mental illness often happens in teams with the following health professionals - Psychologists, Psychiatrist, Occupational Therapists and Social Workers.

Psychologists are interested in the mind and human behaviour. They use specific therapeutic techniques of which one might be talk therapies to help patients to process events, behaviours, thoughts and emotions. They can diagnose mental illness but cannot prescribe medication. They are interested in adjusting behaviours, thoughts and emotions that would allow the person to function more effectively.

Psychiatrist - a medical professional/doctor that specializes in mental illness. They are involved in the assessment and containment of patients. They can diagnose mental illnesses and prescribe medication.

Occupational Therapists are concerned with a patient's functioning and how their mental illness might be affecting their occupations (occupation being defined not just as the person’s job but any activity that is meaningful and purposeful to them). OT’s use structured activities in an attempt to restore a sense of health and well-being.

This is a sincere encouragement to people to not be scared to ask for help.

There are numerous helplines and support groups available HERE.