The World Health Organization (WHO) crisply underlines the enjoyment of the highest standard of health as a Fundamental Right of every human being. Health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Therefore, in order to improve health as a whole, improving mental health is believed to be crucial.
The term “mental health” has been explained in different contexts. One of the earlier versions of the term indicated good mental health to be synonymous with the absence of any mental disorder. However, now the definition of the term has broadened to, “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her (or their) own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her (or their) community.”
In accordance with that, now the term mental health includes the complete emotional, psychological, and social well-being of an individual. Hence, mental health can simply be described as an appropriate balance between the individual, their social group, and the larger environment. These three components combine to promote psychological and social harmony, a sense of well-being, self-actualization, and environmental mastery.
As students of psychology, we understand this nature of mental health as all-encompassing, however, this expanded understanding largely remains restricted to us.
We live in a society wherein general conceptions perceptions dictate several aspects of our lives and allow or disallow us from doing something. Our attitude towards mental health is no exception; it is subjected to the same set of perceived “do’s and don’ts”. The way that we as humans, perceive and conceive mental illnesses affects not only our response towards, and interaction with someone potentially dealing with one, but also the way we perceive and manage our own emotions. A topic as important as, mental illness, hence, often gets treated by individuals and families as a “private matter” that was not to be discussed outside the four walls (Borinstein, 1992) .
More often than not, even grown-ups would readily dismiss it as a transient mind could be dealt with by “cheering oneself up” or the likes, thus, normalizing mental health difficulties as something that does not require attention or care. Unfortunately, society’s beliefs and attitudes towards mental illness predict whether one discloses their symptoms and may seek treatment and support (Jorm, 2000) .
Needless to say, studying and observing general perceptions is an indispensable part of evaluating not only the extent of knowledge and awareness that exits but also about the different sources that shape these perceptions. As contrary to popular beliefs, anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness regardless of their background. Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, colour, caste, gender, religion or any other social identity.
Raising awareness can involve steps as simply as gaining personal knowledge, direct experience with someone suffering from mental illness, challenging societal stereotypes, and media portrayals that contribute in shaping one’s attitude. Research suggests that once tagged as ‘mentally ill’, a person is subjected to unequal access to resources educational and employment opportunities, a supportive community and in some cases health care as well. Previous research in this area reveals that 70% of adults experiencing some mental illness do not seek treatment due to the fear attached to labelling (Henderson, Evans-Lacko, & Thornicroft, 2013) . Another study on the young perceptions of mental health using a combination of focus group discussions and individual interviews revealed a tendency of the older generation to trivialise the problems and worries of the younger generation as of far less importance (Armstrong, Hill, & Secker, 2000). This can have negative impacts on the younger people’s well being as they become more likely to keep their problems to themselves believing they are not important enough to trouble others with.
Hence, while there are effective treatments available, many individuals with known mental health issues never seek help from a professional due to stigma, discrimination, a lack of resources, or a combination of all three. Despite the available knowledge systems and growing understanding, instances such as, “it’s not as bad ...yet, I don’t need therapy,” add onto the stigma that persists around mental health. So, in a situation like this how do we bridge this gap and move towards de-stigmatization?
Opening up to your friends and family can bring itself feelings of uncertainty, the fear of being judged, or just outright rejection. It can be so disheartening to open up about a very real struggle you’re having, only to have them disregard or disbelieve you. It goes well to remember that how someone reacts to your responds to your mental health issues reflects on their ability to provide support and not the validity of your experience.
It is important to remember that you are not alone in this and it is okay to ask for your help. Our community has been able to survive due to collective support and solidarity and not the survival of the fittest. It takes courage to open up. To accept that we need help. Hence, when one of us speaks up about managing mental health difficulties, we deserve to be believed and supported. Psycho-educating your family and friends can go a long way in alleviating that stigma around mental health.
No one becomes an expert in mental health overnight. However, through a strong commitment, revising and challenging our stereotypes and through practicing having tough conversations, we all can become the kind of ally that every person trying to manage a mental health condition deserves to have.
In accordance with that, we, at You’re Wonderful Project; believe that every life is important and worth saving; we extend online peer-to-peer counseling services to make mental health services accessible for the youth.
Armstrong, C., Hill, M., & Secker, J. (2000). Young People's Perception of Mental Health. Children and Society, 14, 60-72.
Borinstein, A. (1992). Public attitudes towards persons with mental illnesss. Health Affairs , 186-196.
Henderson, C., Evans-Lacko, S., & Thornicroft, G. (2013). Mental illness stigma, help seeking and public health programs. American Journal of Public Health, 777-780.
Jorm, A. (2000). Mental Health Literacy: Public knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 396-401.
Shah, A., Wheeler, L., Sessions, K., Kuule, Y., Agaba, E., &Merry, S. (2017). Community perceptions of mental illness in rural Uganda: An analysis of existing challenges facing the Bwindi Mental Health Programme. African Journal of primary health & family medicine, 1-9.