Most people think they are healthy if they are not suffering from any obvious physical disability, however health is more than just physical wellness. Oftentimes we ignore our feelings and overlook our mental well-being, which in turn creates an imbalance that affects our overall health. You are healthy if you are physically fit, mentally stable and socially well. Mental health disorders are conditions that can significantly affect how a person thinks, feels, behaves and copes with life events.
The World Health Organization has defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental (or psychological) and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”. Mental or psychological homeostasis is the ability to maintain mental health status in response to external triggers.
Do mental health disorders have physical roots?
Mental illness can impact cognitive function which can negatively impact the adoption of healthy behaviours. As a result, individuals may lose motivation to take good care of their health. Physical and mental health disorders have an impact on each other. If one of them is left untreated and uncontrolled, it can lead to another, resulting in negative consequences on overall health. For instance, two common mental health disorders; depression and anxiety, can increase the risk of long-term illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Similarly, the presence of long-term physical illnesses like inflammation and cancer can increase the risk of mental illnesses.
What are some common mental health disorders?
There is a misconception that you are mentally well if you are happy all the time. People feel tired and get mood upsets sometimes and feel better over time. It is normal to react to certain situations in your life and come out of them with a positive attitude. It does not mean that your mental health is compromised, it’s a reaction of your body to deal with such situations. But if these situations start persisting for long periods of time and negatively affect your physical and mental well-being, they give rise to certain mental health disorders which include anxiety, depression, stress, cognitive disturbances, sleep problems, and eating disorders.
Are you in an ongoing state of feeling sad, hopeless, agitated, helpless, worthless, exhausted, and disturbed sleep patterns? These could be signs of depression if they persist for a long time. A clinician can be consulted for a confirmed diagnosis of depression.
- Major depressive disorder (MDD) is the most severe type of depression that disrupts the daily activities of life and increases the overall risk of health burden worldwide. MDD affects women more than men. Brain chemistry plays a crucial role and an imbalance of chemicals in the brain is observed in MDD.
Do you often feel nervous, worried, agitated, have difficulty concentrating, have an increased heart rate, or have episodes of rapidly breathing? These could be signs related to anxiety. Anxiety is the most prevalent of all psychiatric disorders and is classified as the 6th major cause of disability worldwide by the World Health Organization. Individuals experience anxiety at some point in their life that can range from a mild sense of unease to more severe and frequent panic attacks. Anxiety is more prevalent in women than men. Having anxiety for the long term can make you develop other psychiatric problems.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most severe form of anxiety that develops when anxiety persists for at least 6 months.
When you are exposed to an uncertain situation and your heart pounds faster, blood pressure rises, muscles start to tighten, you get a headache and are unable to fall asleep, you are likely to have stress. Stress is the body’s response to demanding situations. Stress can make you feel overwhelmed and it is hard to cope with situations. Upon exposure to stress, our body activates a hormonal axis which then releases stress hormones. These stress hormones are chemicals that act on cells to relieve stress. Being exposed to stress for long periods of time can lead to other mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.
Cognition is related to our thinking and learning skills. Cognitive disorders involve a lack of attention, difficulty learning and focus, acquiring and retaining memory and problem solving. Cognitive disorders can affect simple tasks such as playing a simple game to handling complex machines.
Common cognitive disorders include dementia, amnesia and delirium.
- Dementia is a cognitive disorder accompanied by loss of memory, communication and thinking skills that deteriorates overtime. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and occurs due to damage to brain cells.
- Amnesia is a mental health condition with loss of memory that can be caused by brain damage, sleep inducing medications, alcohol, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Delirium is a sudden short-term cognitive dysfunction where an individual is unaware of the surroundings and acts in confusion. Delirium can be caused by pre-existing brain disorder, infection, drug withdrawal, and certain medications (sleep-inducing medicines).
When you go to bed after a long and tiring day and close your eyes to get sleep. Suddenly, you have a cloud of thoughts surrounding your head, you try to dismiss them but they keep bothering you. You try not to think about them but it’s hard for you to calm down and fall asleep. You have one bad night’s sleep and it ruins your day and it persists for days and weeks. This continued sleeplessness indicates sleep issues. Sleep disorders can affect your mood and energy level. It affects both mental and physical health where an individual is restless and fatigue and at the same time develops mood changes.
- Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder where an individual has difficulty falling and staying asleep. It affects both quality and quantity of sleep. Insomnia is usually an outcome of other mental disorders like stress, anxiety and depression. Certain medications and physical illnesses can also affect sleep quality.
Nowadays the young population is becoming obsessed with body weight and looks that are controlling their eating habits. Eating disorders are mental health disorders associated with disturbance in eating patterns that are more commonly observed in young women but can happen to anyone at any point in life. Two common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia.
- Anorexia (Anorexia nervosa) is an eating disorder where an individual is severely underweight due to very limited and selective food intake. As a result anorexic individuals are severely malnourished and at risk of developing serious consequences that can be fatal.
- Bulimia (Bulimia nervosa) is an eating disorder characterized by being overweight due to unusual excessive food intake. Such individuals are at risk of developing other mental illnesses (depression), obesity, diabetes and heart related problems in future.
What are the severity levels of mental health problems?
Mental health problems affect a person’s ability to perform daily routine tasks. Based on the number and frequency of symptoms as well as impact on daily tasks, mental health disorders can have different levels of severity as mild, moderate and severe.
- Mild conditions can be addressed at home by changing lifestyle and introducing healthy activities. These healthy activities can include balanced nutrition, exercise, yoga, proper sleep, making good choices, and positive aptitude in dealing with situations.
- Moderate symptoms can be treated by use of medicines and herbs.
- Severe symptoms need more than just medicines. It is usually treated with a combined approach that includes medication, psychotherapy, herbal support as well as lifestyle changes. Both moderate and severe conditions need to be diagnosed by the clinician for proper treatment.