“Ah just suck it up and deal with it.”
“Don’t be such a child.”
“Deal with the pain.”
“Learn to move on.”
“You are so weak emotionally. You need to be stronger.”
“You get triggered so easily. Calm the F*** down!”
“Why are you so hysterical?”
“Ah just cheer up! Don’t be a party pooper.”
And several more such as these.
I myself am guilty of having used some of these at several instances in the past. Am I proud of having done so? Certainly not.
The only silver lining, if you may call it so, to an otherwise gloomy cloud of the Covid induced lockdown is that more and more people have begun realizing that they need to care for themselves more, perhaps more than ever before. Over a year and a half of a life gone topsy-turvy and you begin noticing signs of your mind in the doldrums. Losing jobs or working from home, kids studying at home through online mode, reduced social interaction, forced restrictions on movement and freedom, fear of contracting the virus and many times loved ones falling prey to it, the hospitalization, treatment costs, a bleak future with the economy dwindling and the looming dangers all took a toll on the state of our mind. The US Centers for Disease Control called it ‘The war has changed’. Yes, it is a war where the enemy is unseen and extremely tiny but massively lethal. What happens when you face such quandary in such a short time at once? Mental Health suffers.
This did not go unnoticed. Several countries recognized this and set up hotline for people suffering potential mental health crisis.
What exactly is mental health?
It is our emotional, psychological, and social well-being which impacts the way we think, feel and act with others. It also impacts the way we handle stress, interact with others, and make choices in different situations. Mental Health isn’t just the absence of any mental problems. It could be the way you feel for a long duration that makes you feel something’s just not right about life. When your mind is not healthy, you wouldn’t feel healthy physically.
Putting mental health first
In the past few months, we have seen some great sporting stars putting their mental health ahead of the medals and the victories. From Naomi Osaka who had first stunned the world with her Wimbledon win against the mighty Serena Williams and then Simone Biles, the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) gymnast who withdrew from Tokyo Olympics citing mental health issues, we have witnessed the youth prioritizing mental health.
“We have to protect our mind and our body rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do,” said Biles. By doing so, and putting everything that they worked hard for at stake, they are making a strong statement that they are humans too. If the mind doesn’t feel healthy, it needs rest. Period.
Not until long ago, such acts would have been laughed at, considering rubbishing and brushing aside mental health problems was the norm. Why, even today, these athletes have been criticized for stepping down at the last moment when the nation’s glory is at stake and they’re supposed to be potential medal winners. But for them, mental health is far more important than winning medals and rightly so.
English cricketer, Ben Stokes, all of 30, decided to take an indefinite break from the sports. Stokes is quoted as saying that the demands on our athletes to prepare and play elite sport is relentless, but the pandemic has aggravated the problem. He says that spending long duration of time away from family under severe restrictions (players must stay in bio-bubbles which are isolated zones for safety purposes) takes a toll on their minds.
Australian basketball star Liz Cambage too took a break from the Olympics citing apprehensions for living in the bio bubble, without family, friends or fans.
That was about the athletes in the recent past, but there have been plenty of people coming forward and speaking about their mental health of late, while this wasn’t so earlier.
Even if players faced issues about mental health, they would not publicly discuss it. English cricketer Marcus Trescothick, Golfer Matthew Wollf, England defender Tyrone Mings, Adam Zampa and many others have cited personal issues when they took a break from competitive sport. It later emerged that they faced anxiety and depression due to which they decided to step back.
How to you know if you are having mental health problems?
You are your best judge when it comes to health- physical or mental. It’s just that while we can see and show what’s wrong with our body, we can’t do that with our minds. And moreover, we’re raised to feel that one mustn’t pay too much attention to the mind which anyways keeps oscillating between thoughts. So we tend to brush it off, or undermine its potency to hurt. It’s only when things start feeling ‘not normal’ and you experience a sense of disorientation and inability to handle yourself well, that you realize you have mental health issues. Some associated symptoms that must raise red flags include, but not limited to:
- A feeling of detachment from people around us
- Too much or too little appetite
- Lack of energy or drive to do anything
- Lack of emotions, a numbness that nothing matters anymore
- Always feeling confused, on the edge or lost
- Worry, fear, anger, irritation as a constant companion
- Abnormal sleep patterns
- Frequently picking up fights with people
- Recurring thoughts and memories that you seem unable to let go of
- Difficulty completing daily mundane tasks also
- A general sense of helplessness, futility about life or being overwhelmed for trivial matters
These are some of the early signs that all is not well. It is advisable to seek immediate counseling support at this stage before it is too late.
It is a wrong notion that only adults or grown -ups suffer from mental health issues. Children and the elderly also go through them. The recent case of a 16 year Singapore student at the River Valley High School for killing a 13 year old fellow student with an axe brought to light the problems that many children face. In the above case, the alleged culprit had mental health issues for some time and had also attempted suicide in 2019. While the city state mourns the dead child, many moms of students who have killed themselves in Singapore have joined together to plead suicidal teens to ‘Please stay’.
The world over, kids have been silent sufferers of mental problems because they’re unable to process what’s bothering them and around them and don’t know how to express what they’re going through. The pandemic has added to their woes with its restrictions, social isolation, pressure of online studies and a general sense of helplessness and uncertainty of the future. No interaction with friends and extended family, no social events and gatherings, no recreation, sports or group learning is taking a massive toll. When parents too fail to recognize children’s problems, it makes matters worse for everyone.
What results in mental health issues
Unlike physical health where there are a set of known reasons, at least most of the time, mental health problems can be triggered by several reasons or a combination of them.
- A history of mental illness in the immediate family
- Hormonal imbalances
- Trauma- both mental and physical
- History of childhood or adult abuse
- Poverty and helplessness or abandonment
While not everyone who go through these problems face mental issues, those who are weak in coping mechanism or those who don’t find early childhood encouragement and support do find it difficult to face life with all its complexities.
Mental health is mostly about how you respond to life and its challenges. There is no one standard response for life’s situations and as one grows, he/she learns to form such responses. An inability to fathom or grasp how life is dealing with us leaves us grappling with the problem with no solution in sight.
In the current scenario, people are facing too many problems all at once. While millions of US citizens are grappling with health and employment issues, closures and safety concerns, they’re also having to face eviction notices; for the Biden administration just removed the moratorium that was in place that shielded them from eviction for due rent to landlords. So when a person who’s already living on the edge faces so much pressure with little or no respite, he/she feels lost and desperate.
How would you help someone battle mental health issues?
The key to this problem is in prevention. Not everyone is alert and aware about what’s going on in their mind. Unlike the athletes who had the courage to pause and give themselves the time and space to heal, not everyone can do that for practical reasons.
- Families, schools, workplaces, team members need to be aware and alert of causes and symptoms of mental health issues. Several NGOs and Govt. departments, columnists, celebrities have taken up the cause to create awareness about mental health.
- Spot any abnormal behavior of your child, student or teammate. People facing issues frequently drop hints which cannot be shrugged aside.
- Keeping communication channels open, encouraging others to speak up if something is bothering them, goes a long way in early identification. A close circle of friends, close family members or colleagues need to reach out in such cases and hear the person patiently.
- Keep the family, school and workplace atmosphere open for healthy talk. Don’t be judgmental about how or what someone feels. Each person perceives life and its challenges differently. What may be trivial to one may be the end of the world for someone else.
- Removing the taboo associated with speaking about mental health is the key to encourage others to express themselves. Fear or stigma makes it difficult and the problem persists or may aggravate at times. Just like you would seek treatment for a fever or an ulcer, one needs to approach an expert for mental issues as well.
- Persons who realise something is just not feeling right must approach their family members/ teachers or a counselor at the earliest. Waiting for too long for things to “get better” can worsen the situation.
- Schools need to have active and exhaustive counseling programs in-built into their curricula. Workplaces can also have counselors on board and help-lines open for workers who face such problems. Making it known and felt that it’s OK to feel like this and that help is easily available gives that much needed comfort to the person facing it.
How to deal with a person facing mental health issues or what to do if you’re the one?
In spite of all your active efforts and alertness, there may be times when you or your near and dear ones, your co-worker, teammate or student or even a friend would be suffering from mental health problems. If that person is himself aware about it, matters become easier to deal with. In case not, it could be your responsibility to coax him into seeking counseling and intervention.
- The first step is to accept and not feel dejected or judged. It’s alright to not feel OK.
- Understand that there is help at hand. Unlike in the early days, today there are several counselors, therapists, mental health workers and help-lines that provide real-time assistance in dealing with these problems.
- Seek out active help. Set an appointment with a therapist or a counselor. Do not try and Google yourself for the symptoms and treatment for an expert knows it best.
- Keep in mind that just because you’re not feeling ok mentally, doesn’t mean you’re a lunatic or going insane.
- Remembering that this too shall pass and that things change, they do getter
It has been proven time and again that ignoring mental health issues can lead to dangerous situations if not addressed in time. It is not a trivial matter nor is it going to be treated on its own without intervention. So identifying, accepting, seeking help and getting timely treatment is the only way. If you don’t think about your health, who will?
Disclaimer: These are my observations only and my perspective of how I recognize and feel about Mental Health and in no means offer a professional perspective. I would recommend you reach out to a professional psychologist if you are seeking a professional opinion.
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