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It is okay, to not be okay.

Something Generation Z posts or reads on social media almost daily. This statement is partly correct as it is incomplete. Yes, it is completely acceptable to not be okay, however, it should not be acceptable to not seek help when not okay.

We know the internet is full of treatments and tonics that can boost your physical health, relieve your body aches, glam up your aging skin, and help you lose weight in infinite numbers of ways. However, we see limited articles or products that specially target or talk about how you can deal with your problems that do not have a physical entity. Sadly, the false belief that conversation about one’s feelings makes others uncomfortable has led to the stigmatized such conversations. This reflects the hesitancy exhibited by the general population in seeking help or consulting a professional when encountering any complaints related to their mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, less than one-third of people who could benefit from mental health care services, avail of them.

What do we mean by Mental Health?

To understand what mental health encompasses, let us first revisit the definition of health. According to WHO“ Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’’ Now, observe how the word physical is followed by mental and social well being, representing their equal significance for a person to be declared healthy. The second part of the definition also clarifies, that the absence of an organic pathology to be not classified as a state of health. Meaning just the absence of a diagnosed pathology does not fulfill the criteria of being healthy unless all three physical, mental and social aspects are satisfied.

Now addressing specifically mental health, according to WHO, your Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can make a contribution to his or her community.’’ There are several key points to highlight and understand from the above statement. First, the umbrella term of mental health encompasses the potential of an individual to recognize their abilities to smoothly perform the activities of daily life and to deal with stressors encountered daily. It also emphasizes the ability of an individual to play their role as an active member of a community. A healthy mind aids in creating positive relationships and tackling life’s challenges. It allows an individual to express a broad range of emotions and behaviors and utilize their thoughts productively.

To put it in a nutshell mental health encompasses the psychological, emotional, mental, and social well-being of an individual.

Why should you focus on Mental Health?

It is crucial to acknowledge that mental health complaints are more prevalent than organic pathologies such as heart diseases, diabetes, or cancers. According to John Hopkins, on an estimate 26% of Americans, ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. To put in simpler words, every one in five U.S. adults currently lives with a treated or untreated mental illness (51.5 million in 2019). These statistics have been reported to skyrocket since the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the highly contagious infection is overburdening the health infrastructure, the mental health services are also experiencing pressure to cope with increasing incidence. This is further contributing to the reluctance among seeking help in the suffering individuals.

Why is Mental Health Downplayed in society?

One of the many reasons why mental health is downplayed is society’s misconception of success. Individuals that are constantly engaged in productive activities to the point of exhaustion are labeled to be successful and are wrongly exemplified to others. This creates a negative competitive environment that diverts an individual’s focus from self-growth and care to more materialistic goals. This constant state of stress, anxiety, and physical overburdening can lead to detrimental effects on both mental and physical health in the long run. Similarly, the lack of understanding and awareness of mental disorders creates a barrier for people to accept and acknowledge such conditions. They are believed to be either unstable, weak, or violent, and a burden to the community due to their lack of productive engagement. As the symptoms of mental health disorders are not as characteristic clear as physical illness, suffering individuals are also frequently overlooked or missed by the people around the patient.

The effects of stigma on people suffering from a mental disorder

The above-mentioned society’s stigma towards mental health can lead to harmful effects such
as :

  • Stigma leads to discrimination in a society that can be both direct or indirect. Mentally ill patients are frequently disregarded for their opinions and complaints. Especially in undiagnosed cases, they are often called out to be pretending to seek attention as their symptoms are not physically appear to others.
  • Similarly, avoidance behavior towards such individuals is unfortunately very common as they are assumed to be unstable, violent, or dangerous.
  • The stigma also leads to reluctance in seeking professional help for mental health issues which is way higher in proportion when compared to consulting a professional for physical health complaints.
  • Due to a lack of awareness and understanding regarding mental health disorders they are usually inadequately covered by health insurance services.
  • The patients are also discriminated against while offering academic, professional, and social opportunities due to the misconception of them being unstable to hold responsibilities.

What can we do?

In light of the previous discussion, all members of the community must play their part in destigmatizing mental health issues and support help-seeking behaviors. It is the need of time that all efforts are made to normalize the behavior of getting professional support for mental health complaints as frequently and freely as physical health. Patients need to understand that avoidance or denial may make the matter worse and will continue to create obstacles towards a healthy recovery.

As a member of a community, it is also our responsibility to closely notice and identify individuals around us that are vulnerable to such hardships. Offering to listen to their complaints or simply asking them if they are alright is the most important step that can significantly help those in need. Encouraging them to visit a professional health provider can make all the difference in improving their quality of life.

“Mental health: strengthening our response”. World Health Organization . August 2014.

“WHO | Promoting Mental Health; concepts, emerging evidence, and practice” . WHO .

Merikangas KR, He JP, Burstein M, Swanson SA, Avenevoli S, Cui L, Benjet C, Georgiades K, Swendsen J. Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in US adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child &
Adolescent Psychiatry. 2010 Oct 1;49(10):980-9.

Ornell F, Schuch JB, Sordi AO, Kessler FH. “Pandemic fear” and COVID-19: mental health burden and strategies. Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry. 2020 Jun;42(3):232-5.

Pfefferbaum B, North CS. Mental health and Covid-19 pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine. 2020 Apr 13.

Study BS, National Institutes of Health. Information about Mental Illness and the Brain. NIH Curriculum Supplement Series [Internet] 2007. National Institutes of Health (US).

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