What is Mental Health?

Mental health is one of the most important determinants of our health and wellbeing. It influences the way we think, feel and behave. According to the World Health Organisation mental health is not just the absence of any mental illness. Rather it is a state of mind in which we are able to recognise our abilities, strengths and weaknesses and use them wisely to deal with various life stressors and lead a productive and functional life contributing to self as well as the community.
The World Health Organisation states that there is no health without mental health and gives mental health great importance in promoting our health and wellbeing.  Mental health means our ability to create self-awareness, positive thinking, our ability to recognise stress and strain in our daily lives, and our ability to manage it well. In everyday life, many people talk about coping with stress and tension. Good mental health is about effective and good management of our positive and negative thoughts, emotions and our actions or behaviour.

Why is mental health important?

Good mental health helps us to overcome and manage our stress, tension, anxiety, anger and aggression, our sadness and feelings of depression as well as negative thinking and emotions that affect our everyday life.  Good mental health helps us to create that inner strength and capacity in ourselves to support self-awareness, understanding and development of our abilities to withstand the stress and tension and all the negativity that affects us, not just in our personal lives, but in our family, work and social life as well.
Mental health and mental illness are frequently used in our everyday conversations and life as if they mean the same thing. It is important to emphasise that everyone has mental health the same way as everyone has health. In the course of our lifetime, not all of us will experience mental illness, but all of us struggle at some point or at many times in our lives with stress and tension, sadness and anxiety and other events happening around us which challenge our mental wellbeing. This is just like the challenges on our physical health and wellbeing. So, when we talk about our mental health, we are talking about our mental wellbeing: our emotions, our thoughts and our feelings, our ability to solve problems in our everyday life. Mental wellbeing also means how we overcome difficulties, how we deal with our social connections and our understanding of the family, friends and the world around us. People from all sections of the society including people from rural and urban communities, and people from minority communities have the ability to create this mental well-being.
All of us go through different phases of mental health during our lifespan. There might be situations in which we cry uncontrollably, have anger outbursts and throw tantrums, react childishly and illogically, become nervous and shiver, and at times where we can’t accept reality. These are just normal reactions to stressful situations of a wide range of intensity and severity. For example, normal life stressors like examinations, work pressure, financial issues, family issues etc can disturb our state of mind and temporarily affect our mental health. We surpass the situation and with time, and we usually regain our mental health. But at times extreme stressful or sensitive situations create a long term impact on our mental health and makes our mind vulnerable to mental distress and mental illnesses. Any emotional or psychological instability that prolongs beyond a definite time and impairs the functioning of the individual can be called a mental illness.

What is Mental Health Literacy?

Mental Health Literacy (MHL) is defined as our ability to recognise specific disorders or different types of psychological distress but is equally relevant to all communities. It is learning not only about the knowledge about risk factors and causes of various psychiatric disorders but also self-help, knowledge of professional services and how to seek help and remain well.
Mental Health Literacy consists of:
  1. Our ability to recognise specific disorders and different types of mental distress.
  2. Our knowledge about risk factors and causes for mental distress / mental illness.
  3. Our knowledge about self-help interventions for overcoming mental distress/ Mental illness.
  4. Our knowledge about professional help available for overcoming mental distress/mental illness.
  5. Our attitudes to mental distress/ mental illness (Overcoming Stigma)
  6. Our knowledge about how to seek information on mental health /mental distress.
  7. Our knowledge and understanding of how our cultural heritage, cultural norms and belief systems help to overcome mental distress.
A low level of mental health literacy prevents us from recognising signs of distress in ourselves or other people around us, which can stop us from seeking help and support. Mental health literacy is important in increasing appropriate help-seeking and support in urban, rural and tribal communities. A lack of awareness about mental health in the public may lead to discrimination and stigma toward those living with mental illness. Culture and society have a role to play in MHL by influencing the understanding of mental health, and mental illness, and the availability and acceptability of mental health services.
Mental health literacy is proposed as a means of enhancing respect towards a person experiencing mental distress, promoting self-care, providing supportive care for others and reducing stigma. For persons with mental ill-health, good mental health literacy helps to manage their condition more effectively. As a community measure, improving mental health literacy can reduce mental health inequalities and lower the burden on government and healthcare services.
Poor mental health literacy can result in poor mental health outcomes resulting in higher disease and hence economic burden in places where mental health services are already scarce. Just having general literacy (ability to read and write) alone will not improve mental health literacy. We need to have good knowledge and awareness of mental health, mental distress/ mental illness to develop good mental health literacy. People in our country face several challenges including illiteracy, poverty, poor mental health policies and a lack of appropriate community care facilities for treatment and support. Strategies to enhance MHL should be considered a priority in our country as a means to develop mental health promotion, increase our ability to recognise mental distress early, improve support and care systems, enhance the rights of people with mental illness and diminish stigmatisation attitudes towards mental illness.
Poor mental health literacy can result in poor mental health outcomes resulting in higher disease and hence economic burden in places where mental health services are already scarce. Just having general literacy (ability to read and write) alone will not improve mental health literacy. We need to have good knowledge and awareness of mental health, mental distress/ mental illness to develop good mental health literacy. People in our country face several challenges including illiteracy, poverty, poor mental health policies and a lack of appropriate community care facilities for treatment and support. Strategies to enhance MHL should be considered a priority in our country as a means to develop mental health promotion, increase our ability to recognise mental distress early, improve support and care systems, enhance the rights of people with mental illness and diminish stigmatisation attitudes towards mental illness.
Good mental health is not about always feeling happy and confident 100% and ignoring all the problems and difficulties in our daily lives. It is about living well and having the ability to manage these problems and difficulties. Our culture shapes the way we think and it plays a major influence on how we think about mental health and mental illness and influences our help-seeking. India is a country with rich and diverse cultures, traditions, beliefs and faiths. With the right support, care and awareness, anyone can live well, with or without mental illness. That’s why it is important to have mental health awareness to support ourselves and those around us.
Anybody can experience mental health problems. Talking about mental health helps us to share our experiences of dealing with these difficulties. It helps to educate and create awareness of what mental illness is and help those with mental illness know that they are not alone. Just like public health services, it is about time that we think about public mental health services in emerging economies such as India, which will help to create a better understanding of the need for promoting the mental health of the wider population, and at the same time to eradicate the misunderstanding, stigma and marginalisation of people with mental illness.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is an illness or condition that affects the way we think, how we feel and interact with others which includes our family, friends, social networks and others in our environment, including our colleagues and friends in our work environment.
The WHO highlights that people with mental illness are subjected to high levels of stigma and discrimination, which may be related to widely held misconceptions about the causes and nature of mental health conditions. Due to the lack of awareness and understanding of the needs of people with mental illness, they experience severe obstacles and abuses in their life. This includes: (1) high levels of physical and sexual abuse, which occurs in hospitals and prisons and the wider community; (2) their political and civil rights are restricted due to the assumption that people with mental health conditions are not able to carry out their responsibilities, manage their affairs and make decisions about their lives; (3) due to the lack of understanding of mental illness, they are not able to participate fully in their communities; (4) inability to access the right kind of help and treatment not just for their mental illness, but also for their general health problems or conditions; and (5) lack of access to emergency services if it is required at any time in their life.
Mental distress or mental illness are marked by changes in one’s emotions, thoughts and behaviour and these changes adversely affect the individual’s personal, social and family life.

Seeking Mental Health Information

Addressing Mental Health Stigma

Recognising Mental Illnesses