Self-care isn't a selfish act. With adequate care and attention, you're in a much better position to look after your loved ones. And this doesn't just mean keeping physically fit. Your mental health is as important. Your mind needs as much TLC as does your body.
So why is it that when mental health issues are discussed, it's usually behind closed doors and in hushed tones? How come you only share news about you or a loved one being afflicted with mental illness with people you absolutely trust, who you're sure will not look down on you?
In this article, we hope to help lift the shadows that cloud perceptions about mental health and enlighten people about including the importance of mental health awareness in regular conversations.
Why Talk About Mental Health?
The worldwide mental health situation is grave. Statista reports that about 970 million people globally suffer from a mental or substance abuse disorder. This is broken down into anxiety disorders, depression, alcohol use disorder, drug use disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorders.
According to the World Health Organization, suicide only comes second to accidents or injury as the cause of death among 15-29-year-olds in 2019. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. For every suicide, there are even more failed and perhaps undocumented suicide attempts.
Don't you sometimes wonder if any of these successful cases could have been prevented with a simple conversation, with the slightest show of concern from a fellow human being? But, unfortunately, the taboo surrounding mental illnesses and suicide keeps mental health sufferers from getting the help they so desperately need and CAN and SHOULD have.
The Barriers to Mental Health Care
Addressing mental health issues is inherently tricky, much like grappling with an invisible many-headed monster. What makes it even worse is that mental health care workers the world over have to contend with barriers that may, at times, seem insurmountable.
First off, there is that all-pervasive stigma, a mark of shame stamped upon an individual because of society's negative but often unfair beliefs. No wonder many who are afflicted with mental disease choose, more often than not, to sweep it under the rug instead of "coming out" to seek medical attention so as not to risk discrimination. Or perhaps they may have made tentative steps to let their condition be known, only to be met with ridicule. Many may even doubt if what they are experiencing is "real" or serious enough to require treatment.
The lack of education also strengthens the fallacies surrounding mental illnesses. The inability of family and other potential caregivers to understand the condition of their loved ones often prevents them from providing the kind of effective treatment needed by the latter. Even the sufferers or patients themselves find it difficult to grasp their situation. In one study, 72% did not seek medical care because they wanted to fix the problem on their own.
Other challenges are the lack of strong government policies and the limited availability and affordability of mental health services.
The Role of Mental Health Awareness
If the lack of understanding and information drives the stigma and perhaps relegates mental health care as a low priority in policy formulation and resource allocation, then raising mental health awareness must be the antidote to help address all that.
Mental health awareness not only helps the sufferers themselves but also their family, friends, and other people connected to them. By shedding light on mental health symptoms, patients are made to acknowledge that their struggles are real, that they’re not just imagining things. This alone can be a decisive step towards getting them the treatment they need.
It's said that our thoughts drive our decisions and consequent actions. The more information is put out there regularly, the greater the possible transformation, from the way people perceive mental health issues to how they behave and act towards them. Even just one individual's acceptance and enhanced understanding of mental health can already have a rippling effect that can eventually make an impact on policymakers in the highest rungs of government.
Mental Health Care
Raising the importance of mental health awareness should ultimately improve diagnosis and treatment. See your mental health professional to ensure you're getting suitable medical attention. We've also come up with a few tips that may be useful to you or a loved one with a mental condition or disorder.
Exercise, Diet, and Sleep
Working out consistently, eating nutritious, well-balanced meals, and getting enough sleep—these may seem misplaced in an article on mental health.
And yet keeping the proper lifestyle habits have the power to support not just your physical but also mental health. Studies show that a healthy way of living can be a potent intervention to reduce one's risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders. It's also been demonstrated to be critical in managing such conditions, reducing the disability, and enhancing the patients' quality of life.
We need each other—there can be no doubt about it. Research reveals that 71% of respondents turned to friends or family members when faced with stress. It was also found out that loneliness is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, depression, cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. Further, Stanford Medicine's Dr. Emma Seppala also points out that people with low social connections tend to be more prone to anxiety, depression, antisocial, and even suicidal behaviors.
Focusing on What Matters
A good reminder for all of us is this: We can only so do much at any given moment. And yet, every day, we are tugged every which way by our responsibilities and obligations. As a result, it is easy to become overwhelmed, to feel incompetent and worthless, especially when we peg our identities on our accomplishments.
When you feel like things are becoming too much to handle, it may be that you're experiencing burnout and may need to take a break from work. While people who suffer from burnout may not always have depression, burnout can increase the risk of depression.
Do your part by nipping stress in the bud. Keep from being spread too thin by carefully choosing your priorities and managing expectations, including your own.
Relaxation is a Must
Relaxation, on the surface, may seem like a frivolous suggestion in enhancing one's mental health. But did you know that winding down is essential if you're to have a proper self-care routine?
Relaxing has many physical and mental benefits. Specific to mental health, your good ol' R&R can reduce the effects of stress on your mind and body, lowering fatigue, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. It can also improve your focus, boost mood, and reduce anger and frustration. Relaxing can also help you take a step back and see things from a different and more positive perspective, significantly impacting your confidence to deal with life.
Fortunately, relaxation comes in many different forms. You can indulge in daily warm soaks with essential oils like lavender and indulge in soothing massages. You may also get into deeply calming breathwork, practice mindful meditation, or try anxiety-reducing light therapy. Studies show that near-infrared light produced psychological benefits to patients with major depression and anxiety.
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