Q1: What is mental illness?
A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines. There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. Some of the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal.
Mental health problems may be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation or series of events. Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these. With proper care and treatment many individuals learn to cope or recover from a mental illness or emotional disorder.
Most people believe that mental disorders are rare and “happen to someone else." In fact, mental disorders are common and widespread. One in four people suffer from emotional and/or behavioral problems sufficiently distressing to justify seeking professional help. Psychiatrists are at the forefront of this exciting phase of research and development and are thus able to offer the best available diagnostic and treatment approaches.
Q2: Who can develop mental disorders?
Everybody! Just like any physical illness can happen to anyone, mental illness also can happen to anyone. It does not discriminate between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, or skilled and unskilled. Such illnesses occur all over the world, in both developed and developing countries. Incredibly, the recovery from psychiatric illnesses is better in developing countries, possibly due to the support our family and society give to the patient. There is of course some difference in the risk of specific illnesses. Depression is 3 times more common in females than in males. Anorexia and bulimia (eating disorders) is more common in young females. Attempted suicide due to personality disorder is more common in young females around 15-25 yrs. Childhood behavior and academic problems are more common in families with multiple caregivers. Most importantly, a family member suffering or who had a history of psychiatric illnesses is the strongest risk factor for an individual.
Q3: Differences between psychiatry, psychology and counselling.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has done his MBBS training and then specialized in treating people with mental health problem. Psychiatrists are uniquely qualified to assess both mental and physical aspects of psychological disturbances. Their medical education has given them a full working knowledge of both physical illness and psychological problems. They can treat patients with both medications and psychotherapy (talk therapy). They are able to interpret blood tests and other investigations done by medical doctors.
A psychologist is a mental health professional who has done their graduation in psychology and specialization in clinical psychology (MPHIL). They usually do their graduation (BA) in psychology. They are able to provide various therapies and they are trained to do certain testing’s like Rorschach, IQ etc. They try to understand what causes the illness and work with you to remove the illness’s root cause. They are not able to prescribe medications and treat physical illnesses.
Counselling is where a trained mental health professional helps you overcome/solve a specific/single issue. The counsellor provides you with a range of solutions and helps you choose one of those. Some counsellors will also help you and support you while you are implementing the suggested course of action. Counselling is a passive exercise for the person being counselled. It involves a lot of supporting and encouraging statements by the counsellor and often boosts up your morale and helps you feel able to do things.
Q4: Is there no other way apart from taking medicines?
There are other ways and means of preventing relapses and/or recurrences. Their effectiveness is dependent on the intensity, skill and duration for which you use these strategies.
- • Avoid alcohol, beer, smack, ganja and other illicit substances. This includes party drugs like rave, speed, ecstasy etc.
- • Maintain a regular sleep cycle. This means sleep at a reasonably fixed time, wake up at a reasonably fixed time, and sleep for at least 7-8 hours.
- • Have a trusting and sensitive friend with whom you can share your innermost worries and concerns. A spiritual leader/guru can be just as helpful. If neither of these are suitable, then meet a counsellor/psychotherapist at least once a month to discuss your life, thoughts and feelings.
- • Eat light, work light.
Q5: How are mental illnesses treated?
The biological dysfunction that is causing emotional distress and not allowing you to function effectively, is best treated with medicines and supportive therapy.Medicines are aimed at eliminating the dysfunction in your brain by enabling better control of your emotions and feelings. They strengthen the functioning of various chemicals/neurotransmitters in your brain.
Supportive therapy is aimed at answering your and your family’s many concerns about the illness, treatment and the future. Giving information, addressing issues related to family, job and social roles along with providing an environment where the illness is looked upon as a challenge in life to be overcome; are key elements of this therapy.