Sat | May 25, 2019

Michael Abrahams | Check your mental health

Published:Monday | May 13, 2019 | 12:11 AM

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Unfortunately, mental health is a topic that is not spoken of enough, and it should be. Mental illness is prevalent in our society. For example, the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey (2016-2017), released by the Ministry of Health last year, found the prevalence of depression in the country to be 14.3 per cent.

Regarding gender, the prevalence was 18.5 per cent for women, and 9.9 per cent for men. And mental issues not only affect our health, but also the country’s productivity. Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that as a result of absence of employees from the workplace because of mental health issues, the country lost over $859 million in 2013-2014.

Health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." We tend to focus on the physical aspect of health and downplay the importance of our mental and social well-being. But we ought not to. The three are undeniably interrelated and we ignore the strong relationship among them at our own peril. Remember that our brains control our behaviour and most of our bodily functions. So, disordered brain function has the potential to damage our bodies and our relationships.

But several barriers exist to the appropriate management of mental illness. Stigma is one of the greatest obstacles. Many are ashamed to admit that they have a mental illness. They fear being judged as weak or crazy. Other barriers include the cost of psychotherapy and the drugs used to treat mental illnesses, and discomfort with being on medication, especially for prolonged periods of time.

However, the greatest obstacle may be the fact that many persons with mental illness and psychological dysfunction are unaware that they have a problem. Depression is prevalent in our society, but many persons with depression do not know that they have the disorder, and suffer in silence, and/or create environments that cause discomfort to those around them.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

There are several signs and symptoms that, when present, indicate that you may be mentally unwell. For example, if you notice any of the following symptoms:

- changes in your eating or sleeping habits

- low mood

- fatigue

- forgetfulness

- difficulty concentrating

- irritability

- feelings of worthless

- feelings of hopelessness

- crying spontaneously

- loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed

- decreased sex drive

You could be suffering from depression and seeking medical attention would be appropriate. If you are having suicidal thoughts, seek help urgently. See a doctor or visit an emergency room, as these feelings could escalate, causing you to harm not just yourself, but others in your space.

The strange thing about depression is that it can also present with physical symptoms. So, if you experience recurrent physical complaints, such as aches and pains, breathing issues and bowel problems, causing you to visit doctors’ offices frequently, and have many investigations, which are often negative, you very well might have a mood disorder.

Anxiety is also notorious for causing physical symptoms. Persons with anxiety worry a lot and are very fearful. But the psychological disturbance is often accompanied by phenomena such as chest pain, palpitations and increased frequency of urination.

SEEK HELP

Dysfunctional and turbulent relationships are often symptoms of mental dysfunction. If you look back on your life and realize that you have a hard time maintaining long-term, romantic relationships, that physical violence is a recurring issue in these relationships, that no matter where you work, you and your co-workers end up in regular arguments and confrontations, it is very likely that you may be suffering from some type of mental dysfunction.

Mood swings and changes in personality are further warning signs of mental disturbance, and if you keep hearing voices that others around you do not hear or seeing things that others around you do not see, you definitely should seek medical attention.

Your childhood has an influence on your mental health. Abuse, neglect and exposure to major dysfunction in childhood sets survivors up for psychological issues later in life. If your childhood was turbulent and disruptive, be on the lookout for signs and symptoms and address them accordingly.

Mental illness is not something to ignore, scoff at, ridicule or be ashamed of, and it is much more common than you think. According to the WHO, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. If your household has four or more members, it is likely that at least one of you has, or will have a mental disorder.

If you suspect that you might be mentally unwell, do not be afraid to seek help. Visit your doctor, clinic or health centre, or go to a hospital or seek the assistance of a mental health professional directly.

Do not neglect your mental health.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams