Mental health, without a doubt, has finally just gotten the centerstage it deserved years ago. It is only now that people are beginning to give importance to an individual's mental wellbeing. In today's time, everyone wants to protect their mental health. However, understanding the concept of mental health accurately is very important to begin dealing with it effectively.
This is very similar to the misunderstood concept of feminism. Not very long ago, women became anti-men, under the guise of being feminists. Women would disregard anything a man would say, just because he would biologically and socially associate as a man. Irrespective of the fact that he was right or wrong, he would be disregarded, because he was a man. However, there was a huge misunderstanding. Feminism was never about the woman being superior. It was always and still is about equality and equity. It was about questioning not the "men" but the superlative stature that was associated with these men.
There are of course a lot of exemptions. Mansplaining, for example, is when a man while explaining something, takes on the stance of either being condescending or patronising. Or even men who feel entitled to be superior to women. But that is some men! not all.
However, mental health is now treading close to these misconstrued lines where there seems to be an increase in the (rather) misuse of the concept of mental health.
Mental health as defined by World Health Organisation (WHO) is "a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community."
The definition of mental health clearly states that a person realises his abilities, cope with normal stresses of life and work productively. Mental health is not an excuse to just cut off or disregard any criticism that comes your way, in an attempt to protect your mental health. Or even withdraw from the world and other responsibilities because it harms your mental health.
The WHO also states some clear parameters that might induce problems of mental health such as violence and persistent socio-economic pressures, or sexual violence. Apart from that, poor mental health could also be a cause of rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, physical ill-health and human rights violations.
No doubt, when addressing a topic of this manner, there is a huge chance of offending people. However, in the interest of promoting a better understanding of mental health, and in an attempt to ensure we do not exploit it. We must learn to draw lines between our regular life, and mental stressors.
Mental health as an excuse for problematic behaviour
Though protecting your mental health and maintaining optimum mental health is essential. It is often that people use it as an excuse for irrational behaviour. Unfortunately, people seldom realise, that "mental illness doesn’t evaporate the consequences of our actions." Mental health does not make problematic behaviours excusable.
It is essential to understand that while ensuring good mental health can be difficult, our behaviour as a result of the belief (that you have issues) can perpetuate problematic actions.
"To suggest we have no self-awareness while activated upholds the false idea that mental illness is synonymous with irrational, erratic, and even violent behaviour," says popular website healthline.com
There is a difference between actual issues such as depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses and what happens in our daily life. However, daily life stressors are a form of eustress that help us in becoming more productive.
However, avoiding responsibilities and using mental illnesses as an excuse is one of the worst forms of self-care.
We need to understand that being proactive around your mental health only means preparing ourselves for a possible mental crisis (that you may or may not encounter).
We spoke to a mental health specialist Dr Rahul Bagale, Psychotherapist at Apollo Clinic Pune to optimise our understanding of mental health.
1. How can one identify mental health issues?
Mental health conditions can be diagnosed by ONLY qualified & adequately trained Mental Health Professionals, based upon some serial observations and information gathered from family & friends of the person. They can be evident through a change in thought process, emotional state & behavioural responses of the individual that may impair day to day functioning.
2. Are the things that happen on a daily basis, everyday stressors, work pressure or personal issues (really regular ones) mental health issues?
Mental health issues are not just a day of sad mood or mental irritation due to everyday stressors. The human brain (i.e. mind) has a threshold capacity to deal with stressful situations, based upon the genetic make-up, inbuilt resilience & social support.
3. How do we differentiate between mental health issues and regular stressors?
Sometimes, the brain can not deal with stressful situations & it can trigger a breakdown of an individual. If some particular symptoms (as mentioned by the International Classification of Diseases, ICD-10) persist for a particular duration; then only a Mental Health Disorder is diagnosed. Other day to day stressors that change the state of mood on a momentary basis shouldn't be labelled as any disorder (as the layman easily say it as depression, instead of sadness)
4. People nowadays have begun avoiding criticism or partaking responsibilities, because it could affect their mental health? Is that healthy?
Being overly sensitive to criticism can make some predisposed high-risk individuals experience clinical anxiety and/or depression. Avoiding personal & family responsibility can be a part of some form of personality disorders (eg. Anxious Avoidant personality) or some serious mental health condition (such as Schizophrenia). Parenting styles & individual temperament are important factors that determine how a person handles the criticism & how responsible is her/his behaviour. Avoidance is never an answer to better mental health. Nevertheless, improving coping strategies should be on focus.
5. What is the normal amount of stress (eustress) that people should take?
Eustress is defined as an amount of healthy level of stress that an individual can cope well with, in order to use the resources around for optimal functioning. Eustress is just a normal motivating force that drives human beings into a healthy competition, to achieve excellence. Any stress that impairs functioning & creates an uncomfortable (rather distressing) personal experience is unwarranted. One more important thing, it is not always totally in control of an individual, what amount of stress she/he can deal with. Multiple factors play a role as a stress handling mechanism for an individual.
6. Do you think that avoiding every daily activity under the guise of mental health is a form of escapism?
Anxiety comes with avoidance of stressful situations. Sometimes, an inability to perform day to day tasks can be part of disability due to serious mental health conditions (such as Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder & Severe Melancholic Depression). Any other form of escaping away from responsibility or task, on a selective basis, needs a thorough introspection by an individual. As it is possible, that an individual may (consciously or subconsciously) disguise her/his responsibilities under the cover of mental health and still avoid seeking professional help at the same time.
7. Is it the same as positivity, and toxic positivity? Avoiding seeing things in clearer light under the guise of positivity?
Neutrality is more important in preserving our mental hygiene, in recent times. A toxic positivity is as worse as pessimistic negativity. Neutrality doesn't denote an inert state but keeping it clear to see the things as it is, accepting it with constructive actions and avoiding any emotion-driven limbic chaos. Being empathetic & compassionate to the people around is what matters to bring mental peace & harmony. Not necessarily every event happening around us demands an immediate reaction from each of us (especially on virtual social media).
8. How can we better learn to differentiate between regular life and things that could possibly affect our mental health?
Eventually, all our regular life events are somehow contributing towards the path of mental health. Just being aware of the possible factors that may have an impact on mental health (eg. Sleep hygiene, regulating screen timing, social connectedness, practising gratitude, assertiveness, refraining from any addictive substances etc) and keeping other things apart from this domain may solve this puzzle. Let the other domains of life (work, love, friendship, family & relationship) be more enjoyable & fulfilling when an individual is having sound mental health. Seeking professional help for the same & staying okay is all that matters.