What is Mental Health?

Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It 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 her or his community.

In most countries, particularly low- and middle-income countries, mental health services are severely short of resources – both human and financial. Of the health care resources available, most are currently spent on the specialized treatment and care of the people with mental illness, and to a lesser extent on an integrated mental health system. Instead of providing care in large psychiatric hospitals, countries should integrate mental health into primary health care, provide mental health care in general hospitals and develop community-based mental health services.

Even less funding is available for mental health promotion, an umbrella term that covers a variety of strategies, all aimed at having a positive effect on mental health well-being in general. The encouragement of individual resources and skills, and improvements in the socio-economic environment are among the strategies used.

Mental health promotion requires multi-sectoral action, involving a number of government sectors and non-governmental or community-based organizations. The focus should be on promoting mental health throughout the lifespan to ensure a healthy start in life for children and to prevent mental disorders in adulthood and old age.

Causes of Mental Illness

Many factors can influence the development of mental illness, including:

  • Individual genetics
  • Environmental stresses
  • Physical illnesses
  • Family history
  • Head injuries
  • Traumatic events

When a person is experiencing mental illness, especially for the first time, he or she often feels isolated and useless. A person developing a mental illness may not even recognise what is happening to him or her. This is a stressful time for the person who is ill.  Friends and family are worried and confused by what is happening to their loved one.

Most mental illnesses do not require hospital treatment. In some cases, however, the person who is ill may need to go in to hospital to receive proper diagnosis, care, evaluation, and treatment.

Different patients will respond to a diagnosis of mental illness in different ways. For example, some will insist that there is nothing wrong with them; others will fear that they may never be well again. But in most cases, with proper treatment, medication, and support, mental illness can be relieved and a normal life resumed.

Anti-depressants or other types of tablets may be prescribed by a doctor to treat, or complement the treatment, of various mental illnesses.  These medications are generally safe when taken as prescribed, but can take two to three weeks to begin working, and six to eight weeks before the full effects of treatment are felt. The prescribing consultant or the patient’s G.P. will continue to monitor patient progress as treatment proceeds.

Many of history’s great musicians, artists, actors, actresses, authors, and scientists have suffered from mental illnesses. Anyone who experiences mental illness may wish to remember this, and consider himself or herself in good company!


Environmental factors

A variety of environmental factors can make a person more prone to mental illness:

  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Homelessness
  • Divorce/relationship breakdown
  • Bereavement
  • Bullying/abuse
  • Physical illness, whether acute or chronic
  • Moving house
  • Academic or professional pressure
  • Imprisonment
  • Extremes of stress from any cause


Peace of mind

The diagnosis and treatment of mental illness is no longer a terrible thing to be feared and avoided. Many organisations in the U.K. today campaign tirelessly to dispel the myths and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. With the right diagnosis, treatment, and support, recovery from mental illness is not only possible, but likely. Treatment and recovery bring about a better outlook on life, and consequently a better quality of life, for both the patient and society.

Help and Support

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