The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined 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.”
Mental illness is therefore an absence of mental health.
I personally like the mind-body explanation of mental illness offered by NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness:
“… a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.”
Mental illness affects everyone. It affects not just the sufferer, but also their families, friends, co-workers and the communities they’re in.
What Mental Illness Is Not
It is not a character weakness. Neither is it learnt nor contagious like a viral infection that one can “catch” from the mentally ill. It is not a choice, just as cancer isn’t a choice. It is unrelated to intelligence, income level, family background, race and religion. It also isn’t just “a female/elderly thing” because both men and women of all ages can and do suffer from mental illness.
It is also not untreatable. In fact, early treatment improves one’s chances of recovery and leading a better quality of life.
Singapore’s Mental Health
The 2010 Singapore Mental Health Study, conducted by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), found that at least 1 in 10 adults in Singapore suffer from mental illness in their lifetime, with depression being most prevalent.
The study also revealed a wide treatment gap. So, if there are 10 people with mental illness, and only 2 of them seek treatment, the treatment gap is 8.
Some startling statistics on treatment gap (taken from Treatment gap in common mental disorders: the Singapore perspective, by A/Prof S.A. Chong & colleagues)
Alcohol Abuse – 96.2%
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – 89.8%
Alcohol Dependence – 88.3%
Major Depressive Disorder – 59.6%
Generalised Anxiety Disorder – 56.5%
Even with the relatively “lowest” percentage of 56.5%, it still constitutes as more than half of us not seeking medical treatment for it.
This compares to Europe, where around 74% of the mentally ill do not have treatment, in stark contrast to a treatment gap of only 8% for diabetes. (Alonso et. al., 2007)
It would appear that people are more concerned over their physical health than their mental health. Or is it that mental issues are not reported/declared as much since physical problems seem more “legit”?
Your Mind Does Matter
Your mind affects everything that you do — your decision making, the friends you keep, the career you’re pursuing, who you marry, the way you see the world, your personality, your sleeping habits and even food preference.
Having poor mental health can therefore lead to physical and social problems, such as lowered immunity against diseases, chronic pain, high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, relational and marital issues, domestic violence, poor school/work performance, unemployment, substance abuse, imprisonment, poor quality of life and suicide.
We are familiar with health articles like ’10 Superfoods That Boost Immunity’, ‘The Ultimate Dieting Guide’.
If we could pay that much attention to our physical health, what more our mental wellbeing?
Certainly food for thought, isn’t it?