It won’t happen to me, right?
Wrong. Mental illnesses don’t occur in isolation. It is common to all countries and the effects are strongly felt everywhere. The World Health Organisation estimates that one in four people will suffer from poor mental health at one stage in their lives. At present, it is estimated that in established market economies, mental illness ranks second in terms of contributing towards the burden of disease. What's more, it is estimated that by 2020, depression will be the second highest contributor to the disease burden globally.
Biological, physical and social factors all play a part in developing a mental illness. Poverty, sex, age, a major disaster or conflict, family and social environment, and physical health all play a part in your mental health. The chances of developing some illnesses, like Alzheimer’s, only increase with age. So even if you or anyone you know doesn’t suffer now, they may in the future.
Mental health: the invisible man
What do you think mental health means? While most people can list scores of physical illnesses, diseases, aches, and pains, there is no one accepted definition of mental health. Here's a clue: to be in good mental health is more than simply not having a mental illness.
A fully-fledged mental illness is a mental, brain or behavioural disorder. It can include depression, schizophrenia, and drug and alcohol addiction. The most common mental illnesses are depression and anxiety disorders.
Mental health is a person’s ability to cope with the ordinary and extraordinary relationships and stress that life throws at us. In short, our ability to deal with the curve balls and bounce back.
Mental health is the invisible man of health problems. It is as important to a person’s wellbeing as physical health, but we tend to keep this problem hidden as a skeleton in our closet. Because of this, many suffer in silence even though help is inexpensive and easily available.
What are the effects?
The social stigma attached to mental health issues means that it is often neglected in favour of more glamorous health campaigns. This doesn’t mean that the effects aren’t as broad or as deep. In reality, poor mental health can decrease an individual’s quality of life every bit as much as poor physical health. Effects include:
- Medical: the relationship between physical and mental health is closely connected. Depression, for example, can often indicate that a heart disease will develop in the future. Mental illnesses affect and are affected by chronic physical conditions (e.g. diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS). 1 in 4 patients who seek help for a physical condition also have symptoms of a mental illness, but the majority of these aren’t even diagnosed. If the mental illness is left untreated, it can bring about unhealthy behaviour, a lower immune system, and a reluctance to follow medical advice. All of this leads decreased physical wellbeing.
- Social: mental health has a strong social stigma attached to it. Many sufferers feel ashamed of their condition. This may stop them seeking help. They may also feel excluded from society. All of this adds to a poorer quality of life.
- Political: mental disorders account for a significant chunk of economic and social costs. In developed countries, 8 out of the 10 leading disabilities are related to mental health. However, the issue is not regarded as a serious problem. Policy makers, like the public, discriminate between mental and physical health issues. This is reflected in the spending on mental health. Less than 1% of low to middle income countries’ health budgets go towards mental health services.
Death is the most grave of these effects. From a combination of these factors, over 800 000 people commit suicide every year and an estimated ten to twenty million people attempt it. However, suicide is often hidden, and the real figures are likely to be much higher.
How do I know this?
Internet Mental Health, http://www.mentalhealth.com/
Murray, CJL & Lopez, AD (eds.) 1996, 'A comprehensive assessment of mortality and disability from diseases, injuries, and risk factors in 1990 and projected to 2020', The global burden of disease and injury series
, volume 1.
Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, Mental health
World Federation for Mental Health, http://www.wfmh.org/
World Health Organisation 2001, World health report 2001
Affected by mental health issues yourself or know someone who is? Check out our sister site http://www.reachout.com.au/