No one wants to be acknowledged 'crazy' or 'abnormal' and hence, people tend to wallow in misery and feel bad rather than venture out to seek help, says Pragati Sureka.
In today’s day and age, mental health is one of the biggest challenges facing society.
Be it in interpersonal relationships, work, home or community, sound mental health is a pre-requisite for healthy living and functioning in society.
Mental health is always on a continuum.
While there are pathological and organic causes, usually seeking help at the right time from a genuine mental health practitioner , can help most people to face their issues and cope up with challenges.
Time and again, we find that mental illness tends to people’s lives even more than physical illnesses.
A report by The Centre for Economic Performance’s Mental Health Policy Group says that 'On average, a person with depression is at least 50 percent more disabled than someone with angina, arthritis, asthma or diabetes.'
With rising awareness, today treatments for mental illness are easily available and highly effective.
But unfortunately, research says that only 30 per cent people are likely to seek help.
So, what tends to happen usually is that the people who require help the most are typically the least likely to get it.
People understand that they can’t cure breast cancer by themselves. But, most feel that they do not need professional therapeutic help to deal with mental health issues like problems in daily living, lack of confidence, fear of old age, work life balance, psycho-social and other life challenges.
Even debilitating mental health diseases like depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD rarely mandate seeking psychological help until the situation is grave or highly symptomatic.
Stigma for seeking help for mental health challenges is rampant.
No one wants to be acknowledged 'crazy' or 'abnormal' and hence, people tend to wallow in misery and feel bad rather than venture out to seek help.
So, it becomes imperative for families and friends to be aware of danger signs, intervene and take active steps towards seeking counseling help, as and when required.
- Self care is becoming negligent: An individual is becoming increasingly careless about his/her appearance and basic hygiene like brushing, bathing, wearing clean clothes, combing his hair etc.
- Engaging in reckless acts like spending mindlessly, rash driving, binge-drinking, overeating or acting aggressively.
- Problems with thinking: Becoming preoccupied , forgetful, becoming disoriented, seeing or hearing things that no one else does or being irrational.
- Behaving oddly: Could include behaviour that scares you, such as a significant temperamental change, reacting with anger on small things, intolerance of loud noises etc.
- Work life is hampered: Concentration is dwindling at work, moodiness is causing issues with coworkers or significant impairments at work.
- Intense feelings about routine activities, for example, anxiousness when leaving the house.
- Avoiding company of others: Difficulties in interacting with others, such as shying away from social gatherings, responding to questions in monosyllables, withdrawing from the people they love etc.
- Inability to work, such as not holding down a job or diminishing grades or effort in school.
- Preoccupation with death: talks about morbid incidents and unhealthy discussion on death, time and again.
- Disturbed sleep: Develops insomnia, fitful sleep or recurrent disturbing dreams. Wakes up exhausted. Sleepy throughout the day, lack of sleep or oversleeping are some of the signs to watch out for.
Watching your loved ones suffer is soul sapping and very painful.
Remember, the choice to seek therapy always lies with the individual needing help.
They may or may not welcome your gestures and could react badly. However, do not get disheartened.
While the road ahead is not easy, people can help their loved ones by encouraging them to start therapy.
Sharing information non-judgmentally, being supportive and role modeling healthy living mentally as well as physically, tend to be some ways in which loved ones are receptive to suggestions about seeking help.
While the signs listed above are generic and apply to a wide range of mental health issues, I will now elaborate on two specific cases -- namely, addiction and eating disorders in children .
Addiction is a pathological mental health condition which has devastating consequences.
It is characterised by compulsive usage of a substance like alcohol inspite of numerous problems in most spheres of life.
Warning signs for addiction
- Intense craving
- Continued use despite health problems
- Deterioration in interpersonal relationships
- Significantly impaired work
- Experiencing of severe withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit.
How you can help
Often, a person struggling with addiction denies the existence of a problem and shuns help.
Most addicts have very low self-esteem and hence, even a tiny admonishment about their usage makes them very defensive.
They rarely see or concede the problem that co-workers, friends, and family all think is starkly evident.
An addiction specialist can guide family members on how to proceed with getting help for an addict, irrespective of whether the person wants or does not want help.
Recovery from addiction is challenging but not impossible.
It requires supportive healthy family dynamics and also a person’s strong commitment to change.
Originally, a person may be cynical of treatment, or even refute that there’s an issue or problem with addiction. But once they start their journey, they realise that help is available and the benefits that they will get as they start acknowledging issues and engage in the rigorous self-work route to recovery.
Eating disorders explain illnesses that are portrayed by irregular eating habits and unhealthy obsession with food and excessive concern about body weight or shape.
They include both insufficient and excessive eating, which severely damage an individual’s well-being.
The common forms of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
Warning signs for eating disorders
- Change in appetite
- Obsession with weight
- Purging/vomiting after meals
- Unhealthy pallor
Coping with eating disorders: How parents can help
Eating disorders are now a big concern in society today.
Although, research says the average age of onset is 13 plus, even children as young as 8 are being diagnosed with disorders like anorexia and bulemia.
There are no stereotypical patients anymore.
They are found across all cultures, race, socioeconomic group, and religion throughout the world.
Historically, eating disorders were once exclusively a female issue, this is no longer the case.
They are also on the rise in the child, adolescent and male population.
Parents can watch out and role model certain behaviours to help children escape this widely prevalent disorder.
Although children are swayed all the time by various external factors, parents play a crucial role in the prevention of eating disorders.
Throughout childhood, food should never be used as a reward or punishment.
Healthy, balanced eating needs to be a regular occurrence at home. Exercise should be done for fun and health, not weight loss.
Parents need to accept the great impact their own food habits and behavior has on their progeny.
A parent who is constantly on a diet, preoccupied with calories and fat grams, weighing him/herself multiple times a day will invariably role model similar disorder in the child .
A stitch in nine saves nine is very applicable when dealing with mental health.
Unaddressed symptoms tend to pile up like a house of cards, and before one knows it, the damage is corrosive to the individual on a physical, mental and social level.
So, awareness about warning signs can help an individual realise the importance of seeking therapy at the right time for his /her loved one.
Pragati Sureka is a clinical psychologist based out of Kolkata. She recently released her book of poems Musings: An Insight Into Me to help people heal with poetry.
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