Do Not Ignore the Health of Mind

Adolescence and young adulthood is a time of excitement, energy and change. This is the time when career decisions are made. Change of school, new college/university, new friendships, new job and new place can be very challenging.

This is also an age of vulnerability. The changes in environment is exciting for many, but can be stressful and apprehensive for some. Digitalization and the online connectivity has its benefits but it also adds to pressure on youngsters and can lead them to dangerous online activities and manipulation by cyber predators. Many youngsters destroyed their life under the influence of deadly online games of Blue Whale and Momo, while the incidence of cyber bullying is also being heard frequently. And how can we forget about multiple school shootings by youngsters in the USA?

The stress is even more in young people living in war-torn countries like Syria; epidemic-hit regions or those which face natural disasters like recent Kerala and Assam floods; cyclone Daye in Odisha and hurricane Florence in US East coast; typhoon Mangkhut in Philippines and China.

Adolescence is the age when abstract thinking is developing and a stage where one develops an identity about self. Long-lasting mental impressions can be made during this period which can either be a positive, constructive one or a negative, destructive one. Hence, there is a need to take care of adolescents’ mental health.

To be mentally healthy is important to have holistic health. World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, 1946). Bible points towards a holistic growth in Luke 2:52 “Jesus grew in stature (physical) and wisdom (mental), favour with God (spiritual) and favour with man (social)”. No wonder that the spiritual dimension was also added to the definition later on! It is clear from the WHO definition that mental health is as pivotal as physical health for a person to be healthy.

What is mental health? “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with  the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community” (WHO, 2004). It is NOT an absence of mental illnesses. It is normal for a person to feel sad, angry, unhappy and unwell, which is a part of daily human interaction. The way these emotions are managed reflects the mental health of a person. Emotional well-being, psychological well-being and social well-being are the key factors that can be derived from the definition above.

Emotional well-being includes understanding your emotions and managing them well. Emotionally sound people are happier and take interest in their own life. Psychological well-being includes managing everyday stressors, interaction with others, self-esteem and satisfaction in life. Social well-being includes the contribution made to society, to be integrated into one’s community and helping to make the society a better place for others.

According to National Crime Report Bureau, 34.4% of all suicides is between 15–29 years’ age group; a national daily, too, stated in a report on 8 April, 2017, that every hour one student commits suicide in India due to stress

The mental health of young people need to be taken care of. Signs of mental illness can begin as early as 14 years of age. Incidence of suicide is rising with each passing day. According to National Crime Report Bureau, 34.4% of all suicides is between 15–29 years’ age group. According to a Hindustan Times report, 8 April, 2017, “Every hour one student commits suicide in India” due to stress. That’s staggering and scary too!

Stress, depression and anxiety are the major reasons for suicidal behaviour. This is due to inability to cope with the academic difficulties, expectations and demands of parents which can be unrealistic and peer pressure. Lack of support and understanding from parents and peers leads them to withdrawal and slowly pushing them to depression. Adolescents also have high risk-taking behaviour leading them to experiment with dangerous adventures and rash driving. Harmful alcohol and illicit drug consumption is also rampant during this age group. Sexual abuse of the youth and sexual violence by the youths are also on an increase.

Stress and other difficulties are unavoidable in life and the only way to maintain sound mental health is to have appropriate coping strategies. Building resilience, that is, the ability to bounce back in the face of difficulties, is of great importance to promote mental health and prevent mental illness from very early age. Adequate family support and care, support from peers and community support help build resilience. Family and school need to help children develop life skills which will help them to manage difficult life situations. Mental Health and age-appropriate sexual awareness should be a part of curriculum in schools and colleges as well.

Spirituality also contributes to mental health. Being spiritual helps a person to have a meaning and purpose in life as well as a sense of belongingness and security. It helps the person to look into the life events in a different frame altogether, enabling them to have more meaningful outlook for the uncontrollable events. The spiritual mentors, elders and clergy form a supporting community that may help to build resilience, improve self-esteem and help cope in negative situations. Hope, faith, love, contentment and forgiveness that are integral part of spirituality, promote emotional well-being.

Promoting mental health and preventing mental illnesses among youngsters certainly help them personally to have better career and make better life choices. It also benefits society and nation by improving productivity, economy and better contribution to nation building. They help make their family and society a better place.

India has a whopping 87% shortage of mental health professionals. India spends .06% of its health budget on mental health which is less than Bangladesh (.44%). This indicates that mental health is not given much importance at the level of policy making, leading to a lack of adequate professionals and infrastructure to cater to mental health need of the country.

Lack of awareness among people also leads to stigmatising mental illnesses, making it even difficult for the one who is affected to seek professional help. Better awareness on mental well-being and repercussions of unhealthy mental state is much needed. Being aware of the early signs of mental illnesses in youngsters can definitely help in seeking professional help at an earlier stage which can lead to a better outcome.

Therefore, raising awareness about mental health issues of young people, efforts to promote mental health and helping people know how to support their children, siblings or friends is a must and aptly, young people and their mental health is the focus of this year’s mental health day, which is observed on October 10th every year.

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