Mental Health is something that’s very important, but something that isn’t frequently addressed.
Throughout elementary school, middle school, and high school, the idea of mental health was never formally addressed. In health class, we would talk about nutrition, injury prevention, body systems, drivers’ education, and sexual education, but never mental health. Before college, the closest I had ever come to formally talking about mental health was when we learned about eating disorders. Looking back, I realize that there were many opportunities to talk about mental health, but nobody took advantage of those moments.
That could explain society’s current attitudes towards mental health. When we hear of the term “good health,” we usually think of the state of someone’s body, not their state of mind. There are various national campaigns to promote healthy eating, to raise awareness for sports-related brain trauma, and to vaccinate. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many campaigns aimed at promoting mental health, and the initiatives that do exist do not receive the attention they should.
Mental health isn’t something to turn away from. It is something that we as a society must actively address. It is something that we must learn more about.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health is defined as our mental wellbeing. This takes into account our emotions, fears, behaviors, thoughts, and relationships with others. Whereas physical health looks at the state of our body and its physiological functioning, mental health looks at our state of mind and its cognitive functions. In many cases, being mentally healthy just means not having a mental illness.
What is Mental Illness?
Mayo Clinic defines mental illness as “a wide range of disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior.” Some common examples of mental illnesses are depression, anxiety disorders, traumatic disorders, and personality disorders.
Mental illnesses are sometimes hard to define because there is a very wide range, and the diagnosis sometimes depends on the clinician. Unlike diagnoses of physical ailments, which are not usually open to subjectivity, diagnosing mental illnesses can lend themselves to subjectivity and bias.
How are mental illnesses and disorders diagnosed?
Through the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, mental illnesses are diagnosed. This is essentially the Bible for a psychiatrist or psychologist. The manual describes mental illnesses and helps psychiatrists look for disorders.
One of the biggest criticisms of DSM is that it is too broad and has led to over-diagnosis. Part of the process for diagnosing mental illnesses involves identifying a patient’s symptoms and rating those symptoms in terms of severity. In many cases, the symptoms are behavioral; however, the problem with behavior is that it is prone to vary, it is multifactorial in cause, and it may be hard to identify. Furthermore, rating the severity of a symptom is very subjective. Because of these weaknesses, many patients with mental illnesses seek second and third opinions.
How are mental illnesses and disorders treated?
Therapy, medications, surgery, and outrageous medical procedures, are ways in which mental disorders are treated. The first thing that comes to mind when we hear therapy is someone lying down on a couch and speaking to a psychologist or psychiatrist. In actuality, this is only one of the various means of psychotherapy. Other commonly used techniques are group therapy, family therapy, and various conditioning techniques. In many cases, therapy is successful.
For many mental disorders, there are some medications that can be used to cure the patient. For depression, there are a variety of antidepressant drugs. These drugs work by acting on neurotransmitters released in the synaptic region between neurons. The actual biochemical processes involved are complicated, but the main idea is that certain drugs treat mental disorders by affecting chemicals that lead to mood changes.
Surgery is another option for some mental health conditions. Surgery to treat mental disorders is known as psychosurgery, and it generally involves cutting a part of the brain.
Typically, a neurosurgeon enters the cranial cavity and makes incisions in certain regions of the brain. In a procedure known as lobotomy, the neurosurgeon cuts nerves that connect the frontal lobes and the inner emotion-causing parts of the brain. Why psychosurgery works is beyond the scope of this article, but it is important to know that this is not a commonly used procedure anymore. Psychosurgery is not preferred because the changes are irreversible and the success rate is not high enough to warrant its costs.
Finally, there are some interesting biomedical therapies that have been used in the past to help people with mental disorders. One of these treatments involved shocking patients with 100 volts to cure them of their illness. Other techniques involved exposing patients to bright light for a certain period of time. Another treatment involved having patients rapidly move their eyes. For some people, these therapies worked, but for others they did not. These therapies are not widely accepted, but some non-invasive therapies are.
Why should we care about mental health?
Mental health affects more that the life of an individual, it affects the life of a community and society. Gun control issues are tied to mental health and diagnosis of mental disorders. Suicide rates in a society are tied to mental wellbeing. The mental health of our servicemen, servicewomen, and first responders affects their performance and our society’s safety.
Mental health is not something to cast aside and look away from. The ability of a nation to thrive socially, economically, politically, and educationally depends on the mental wellbeing of its people.