The Science of Mental Health

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Mental health is a level of well-being or the absence of a mental illness in an individual. It constitutes for our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It also determines and affects how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. It is important at every stage of our lives, from childhood to adolescence, to adulthood and beyond.

If one experiences mental health problems at any stage in life, it can significantly affect their thinking, mood and behaviour. The many factors that contribute to mental health problems include biological factors (one’s genes or brain chemistry), life experiences (such as trauma or abuse) and a family history of mental health problems.

Mental health problems are common around the world and each and every one of us has the potential to develop mental health problems, irrespective of our differences. 1 in 4 people worldwide will be affected by a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people are currently suffering from such conditions which places mental disorders among the leading causes of disability and ill-health worldwide. The burden of mental disorders continues to grow with significant impacts on health, and major social, human rights and economic consequences in countries all over the world. The most common mental disorders are anxiety disorders, mood disorders and schizophrenia.

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness, affecting 1 in every 13 people (as of 2012). People with anxiety disorders respond to certain objects or situations with irrational fear and dread, as well as physical symptoms like palpitations and sweating. Anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), social anxiety disorder and specific phobia.

Mood disorders are also known as Affective Disorders or Depressive Disorders. Nearly 1 in 10 people aged 18 and older have mood disorders. Patients with these conditions experience significant changes in mood, generally involving either mania (elation) or depression. Mood disorders include major depression, bipolar disorder, persistent depressive disorder and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Schizophrenia is a highly complex condition affecting approximately 1.1% of the population over the age of 18. In other words, as many as 51 million people worldwide suffer from schizophrenia. Schizophrenia normally begins between the ages of 15 and 25. It has negative and positive symptoms. These symptoms are categorised on whether they reflect diminished or excess function. Negative symptoms refer to a decrease or absence of normal functioning, whereas positive symptoms refer to an excess or distorted or normal functioning. Positive symptoms include delusions, thought disorders and hallucinations. Negative symptoms include withdrawal, lack of motivation and a flat or inappropriate mood.

There are various modes through which people with mental health problems might receive treatment. It is important to know that what works for one person may not work for another, this is especially the case with mental health. Some strategies or treatments are more successful when combined with others. Treatments include psychotherapy (talking therapies), medication and self-help.

Research shows that high levels of mental health are associated with increased learning, creativity and productivity, more pro-social behaviour and positive social relationships, and with improved physical health and life expectancy. Ways to create positive mental health include getting professional help if needed, staying positive, getting physically active and eating well, getting enough sleep and developing coping skills.

Ultimately, mental health is about being cognitively, emotionally and socially healthy — the way we think, feel and develop relationships — and not merely the absence of a mental health condition.

Anoushka Thakkar is a Research Associate (Mental Health) at One Future Collective.

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