Little things that cause mental health distress in people

Welcome to this week’s mental health conversation, this is a chat room where we discuss the basics of our mental health in order for us to understand and have a full grasp of the rudiments of mental health and well-being. 

This is part of our mental health advocacy activities aimed at promoting our wholesome wellness, prevention of mental illness, improving our awareness of mental illness, understanding that effective, qualitative and modern (technology based) mental health services are available, and up taking such services for quality living, harmonious interpersonal relationships, peaceful coexistence within our communities and enhancement of our commonwealth.

That we can discuss mental health in major public forum like this and social media is a significant stride for global mental health and specifically, our local mental health advocacy! Considering the enormity of social, cultural and traditional barriers to such discussions that are so ubiquitous and pervasive in our communities today.

Last week, we discussed wellness, mental health, mental well-being and optimum mental well being. This has set the stage for us to discuss mental health problems-mental disorders continuum! I will like to illustrate today’s conversation with the story of Mr. Johnson (hypothetical).

Mr. Johnson is a middle-aged trader who is married with two children; he lived in a sub urban area in Lagos. He leaves home at 4am every morning to fend for his family. 

Everyday is an important workday except Sundays! Four weeks ago there was a clash between rival road transport workers, which lead to commotion, and looting of shops in the area. Mr. Johnson’s shop was affected and he lost significant goods and capital. 

Since that time, Mr. Johnson always appears to be lost in thoughts; he became worried about his shop and how to raise funds to recoup his shop. He struggled to sleep at night, eat and chat with his friends, though he was able to go to shop daily, he was also aware that he was struggling; the feeling of discomfort was quite palpable!

From all indications, Mr. Johnson was obviously not sick, but he was not enjoying the best of his mental health, because he was significantly distressed and was experiencing discomfort, while struggling to cope.

His condition is termed “mental health distress (or mental health problem or mental health discomfort). This is a condition that is in between mental well-being and mental illness.

We often fail to realise this “in-between state”, we assume that we must either be well or sick, and we assume that being well or being sick are discrete states that are mutually independent of each other! We assume that the difference between being well and being sick is well defined and wide, whereas it is not so.

Mental health problems/discomfort may interfere with a person’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities, but may not meet the criteria of an illness/disorder. 

Mental health problems often occur as a result of life stressors, and are usually less severe and of shorter duration than mental disorders, although they may develop into mental disorders. 

These life stressors are often referred to as the social determinants of mental health; they are societal problems that disrupt optimal mental health, increase risk for and prevalence of mental illnesses, and worsen outcomes among individuals with mental illnesses. 

Mental health and many common mental disorders are shaped to a great extent by the social, economic and physical environments in which people live, and we know that social inequalities are associated with increased risk of many common mental health problems.

Approach To Care

As discussed earlier, mental health distress is short of meeting the criteria for an illness, it may not require a therapist’s intervention and therefore are often self limiting. 

In some cases, it may deteriorate into full-blown mental illness. Whereas some people may “whither the storm” and bounce back to normal life, others may require varying degrees of social support and/or significant lifestyle adjustment to prevent mental health distress from degenerating into full-blown illness.

We should be able to work out how we can help Mr. Johnson to overcome the mental health distress; I expect to hear your opinions on this.

Mental illness on the other hand is a diagnosable illness that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities. The individual will manifest a clear loss of function, which may lead to inability to perform social or occupational responsibilities.

This will usually warrant consultation and intervention. There are different types of mental illnesses and each of these occurs with different degree of severity. 

I hope today’s conversation will add value to your understanding of the meaning of mental health problems or mental health distress or mental health discomfort. In essence, we may be anxious but we may not have anxiety disorder, we may feel sad but not be burdened by depressive disorder, we may be angry or irritable but not under the burden of psychosis! 

Next time we shall be discussing mental disorders.

Note:  If you have comments, questions and  contributions, please reach out to us on: +2348037004611 or email us at [email protected]

Vanguard News Nigeria

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