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Mind your mind!

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A healthy mind and a healthy body together make a healthy you! We take extra care to tend to our physical health. Most of us follow a balanced diet and even have a personal trainer in the gym. But with a monotonous routine bound by the hands of time and the unending need to succeed at every task leaves us little time to focus on our mind and our thoughts. Often, we ignore our negative feelings and the decline in mental health it causes. If left unattended, it is likely to cause permanent and sometimes irreversible damage to our mental well- being.

Mental health is, as described by the WHO, “A state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her 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 community.” In a candid moment, how many of these attributes are you able to fulfil without stress? Do you realize your abilities? Can you cope with the regular stresses in life? Is your work productive? Do you give back to the society? How many of these boxes have you ticked?

Mental health is a defining factor when it comes to your daily life, your physical condition and your relations. True, with the current standard of life, stress comes naturally. But managing it effectively so that it does not progress into mental illness is something every one of us should be careful about.

What are the different types and their warning signs?

Mental illness is a blanket term that includes many different conditions. The symptoms for each type of disorder vary for every individual. The common ones include the following:

  1. Mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder are common. In fact, according to the WHO, around 300 million people have depression, with women being at the receiving end more than men. Around 60 million people around the world have bipolar affective disorder [1]. Moods may oscillate between the two extremes – happy and sad. Depression may be acute or even recurrent and long lasting, making daily life tasks burdensome. Loss of appetite, disturbed sleep and dwindling concentration are all signs of depression. Bipolar disorders are characterised by normal moods, interspersed with bouts of depressive and/ or manic attacks. A person experiences hyperactivity, irritable behaviour and reduced need for sleep during a manic attack.
  2. Anxiety disorders comprise of conditions like phobias, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. These are triggered in response to certain objects or situations. Physical symptoms like sweating, rapid heartbeats, improper responses to incidents and reacting suddenly with constant fear and panic signal towards anxiety disorders.
  3. Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia are also quite prevalent. Schizophrenia is typically branded by frequent hallucinations (hearing, feeling or seeing things that do not exist) and delusions (fixed beliefs that are untrue) along with disturbances in thinking, emotions, perceptions and behaviour.
  4. Eating disorders, addiction and impulse control disorders are a part of mental ailments too. Eating disorders can mean overeating or not eating at all. Some people have a tendency to eat uncontrollably when they are under stress. Binge eating is an example of such a tendency. Others are too harsh on themselves. They body-shame themselves and either have anorexia nervosa (consuming very less quantities of food due to the fear of gaining weight) or bulimia nervosa (eating enormous amounts of food and then purging due to guilt). Addiction to drugs and alcohol is a common among young people these days. Kleptomania (stealing), pyromania (an uncontrollable urge to start fires) and gambling are some examples of impulse control disorders.
  5. Personality disorders tend to interfere with a person’s personal and professional relationships. Rigid, unagreeable behaviour and thinking constitute this type of disorders.
  6. Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): OCD relates to a person’s obsession with doing certain tasks at a specified time, as if it were a daily ritual. These actions are set off by persistent fears or thoughts of things going haywire. Such people find it difficult to concentrate on tasks if they realise that their surroundings are not as per their liking.

Some indicators that can be watched for include withdrawal from loved ones, improper sleep patterns, hallucinations or delusions, constant demeaning of oneself, lack of confidence, mood swings, losing hope and feeling suicidal.

Depending on the type of illness manifested, the symptoms are likely to vary. Nonetheless, if the aforementioned signs come to light, it is best to seek a doctor’s help immediately.

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What causes mental illnesses?

Medicine has not yet been able to identify the roots of mental illnesses. However, there are several contributing factors, unique to every person. Combinations of these, along with a person’s genetics, play a major role in the manifestation.

Some conditions run in families and hence a genetic predisposition is a strong risk factor in mental disorders. Sometimes, certain traumatic experiences from childhood may be a likely cause. These are typically abuses of any kind, neglect or death of a loved one.

Apart from these, social, economic, situational or personal stress and pressure also contribute to the emergence of mental ailments. Physical factors like exposure to hazardous substances, nutritional imbalance, accidents and infections can also cause mental illnesses.

What role does DNA play?

While it is true that certain illnesses have a genetic link, it is not necessary that a person with such genetic mutations will develop the condition. Experts are working to unearth the association of genes and different mental disorders. Autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia were thought to be distinct, unrelated disorders. On the contrary, it has been revealed that these conditions are likely to share common mutation at the same four genetic sites [2]. Ongoing research in this area will surely shed light on the DNA- disease association.

What are the treatment options?

Seeking medical help upon observation of signs should be the priority for an individual and his or her near ones. Taking the doctor’s opinion, going in for a professional diagnosis and a subsequent treatment plan is imperative. Doctors may opt for one or more therapies depending on the diagnosis. These are psychotherapies like talking and discussion sessions, cognitive behavioural therapy, lifestyle changes or medications to alleviate the symptoms. Sometimes, simple exercises of affirmations and maintaining a diary also helps.

Prevention is certainly better than cure

Personal genomics services such as Genomepatri, help you understand your genetic predisposition towards a vast array of neurological conditions, helping you take a proactive approach towards tackling them. Bundled with a personalised genetic counseling session following the release of the genotype report, Genomepatri, without the shadow of a doubt, is the one and only in”test” ment (get it?) you need to make for your health today!

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Conclusion

Mental illness is still considered a taboo in almost all parts of the world. While treatment for physical diseases is quite in order, it is sadly not the case for diseases of the mind. Wrong education, ignorance and the inability to understand the gravity of mental illness has written this off as an abnormality.

People with mental conditions often feel guilty, burdened, embarrassed and ashamed of themselves. They think it is wrong of them to feel the turbulences of the mind and hence they do not express their emotions. The more they keep mum, the thicker the wall gets around them.

What can we do in such situations? If your loved one is going through this dilemma, encourage them to talk. Don’t trivialise their thoughts, opinions or issues that cause them the unease. Understand that they are not doing it on purpose and it does not define them. Seek professional help and assure them that it is perfectly fine to experience all this.

To emphasize the impact mental illnesses, have on our lives, World Mental Health Day is celebrated on 10th of October every year. Many renowned personalities have come out in the open and talked about their struggles with depression. It is a movement each of us can make. On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, let us pledge to make a difference and destigmatize this social epidemic.

More than often, a pair of ears, a simple nod, a few words of encouragement and the willingness to LISTEN can make a person feel loved and wanted.


References:
1. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs396/en/
2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/science-news/2013/five-major-mental-disorders-share-genetic-roots.shtml


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