By ABEERA TARIQ.

“Mental Illness Is Nothing to Be Ashamed Of, But Stigma and Bias Shame Us All” --- BILL CLINTON

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is a level of psychological well-being, or an absence of mental illness. It is the "psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment". A mental health problem can feel just as bad, or worse, as any other physical illness – only you cannot see it. This affects around one in four people in Britain, and range from common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, to more rare problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Mental health problems

A mental health problem affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Mental illnesses are of different types and degrees of severity.  Some of the major types are: anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders, eating disorders, depression. These illnesses may also be referred to as a mental disorder, mental impairment or psychiatric disability. Mental illness results from complex interactions between the mind, body and environment. 

Factors causing Mental Health issues

Factors which can contribute to mental illness are: long-term and acute stress, biological factors such as genetics, chemistry and hormones, use of alcohol, drugs and other substances, cognitive patterns such as constant negative thoughts and low self esteem, social factors such as isolation, financial problems, family breakdown or violence. These factors can be minimized by a strong and supportive community environment. Good mental health is a sense of well-being, confidence and self-esteem. It enables us to fully enjoy and appreciate other people, day-to-day life and our environment. When we are mentally healthy we can: form positive relationships, use our abilities to reach our potential, deal with life’s challenges. `

Unfortunately, when a person is labeled by their illness, negative attitudes create prejudice which leads to negative actions and discrimination. Stigma brings experiences and feelings of: shame, blame, hopelessness, distress, misrepresentation in the media, reluctance to seek and/or accept necessary help.

Measures to reduce Stigma

The beneficial effects of increased understanding and perhaps reduced fear from attending a lecture, reading a book or watching a film may also be transient at best. This “self-stigma” reduces the chances that they will seek treatment or take part in everyday activities and reduces their chances of recovery. By staying in and avoiding social contact they also miss the opportunity to introduce themselves to others and thus reduce stigma. Tackling self-stigma may therefore may be just as important, or even more so, as tackling “other stigma”.

So, what we need to do is to stamp out stigma and speak on what your problem is. Stephen king, an American author said,

Here are the 20 habits of a mentally healthy person:

What we can do to improve our mental health:

1.      Think positively, it’s easier.

2.      Cherish the ones you love.

3.      Continue learning as long as you live.

4.      Learn from your mistakes.

5.      Exercise daily, it enhances your well-being.

6.      Do not complicate your life unnecessarily.

7.      Try to understand and encourage those around you.

8.      Do not give up; success in life is a marathon.

9.      Discover and nurture your talents.

10.  Set goals for yourself and pursue your dreams.

How can we eliminate stigma?: We now have a good knowledge of what mental health stigma is and how it affects sufferers, both in terms of their role in society and their route to recovery. It is not surprising, then, that attention has most recently turned to developing ways in which stigma and discrimination can be reduced. As we have already described, people tend to hold these negative beliefs about mental health problems regardless of their age, regardless of what knowledge they have of mental health problems, and regardless of whether they know someone who has a mental health problem. The fact that such negative attitudes appear to be so entrenched suggests that campaigns to change these beliefs will have to be multifaceted, will have to do more than just impart knowledge about mental health problems, and will need to challenge existing negative stereotypes especially as they are portrayed in the general media. In the UK, the “Time to Change” campaign is one of the biggest programs attempting to address mental health stigma and is supported by both charities and mental health service providers. This program provides blogs, videos, TV advertisements, and promotional events to help raise awareness of mental health stigma and the detrimental affect this has on mental health sufferers. However, raising awareness of mental health problems simply by providing information about these problems may not be a simple solution – especially since individuals who are most knowledgeable about mental health problems (e.g. psychiatrists, mental health nurses) regularly hold strong stigmatizing beliefs about mental health themselves. As a consequence, attention has turned towards some methods identified in the social psychology literature for improving inter-group relations and reducing prejudice. These methods aim to promote events encouraging mass participation social contact between individuals with and without mental health problems and to facilitate positive intergroup contact and disclosure of mental health problems. Analysis of these kinds of inter-group events suggests that they (1) improve attitudes towards people with mental health problems, (2) increase future willingness to disclose mental health problems, and (3) promote behaviors associated with anti-stigma engagement.

So, now it is the time that we break the silence, break the stigma and improve our health and therefore improve the standard of our living.

Published in Young Nation magazine on 23 and 30 July, 2016