Mental illness is often ignored or dismissed, mostly through lack of knowledge and understanding of the various conditions and problems that can affect people.
With approximately one in four of us suffering from some sort of mental problem during our lives, it is worth exploring some of the issues surrounding these illnesses.
Even if we are lucky enough not to be directly affected, the chances are that we will know someone who is. The media is often accused of fabricating stories, exaggerating details and whipping up mass hysteria, but on the subject of mental-health problems they been incredibly helpful.
By featuring mental problems on TV, radio and newspapers, the media educates us all about the various types of mental-health issues and the best ways to deal with them. The following five issues have all been subject to media campaigns that have helped to raise public awareness.
Many people say they feel ‘depressed’ when they feel just a little bit down, in much the same way that we tend to say we are ‘starving’ when we are merely hungry.True depression can leave the sufferer feeling as though there is no hope, no point and no future.
Many people suffering from depression are advised by friends and family to ‘pull themselves together’ but this is useless advice to someone who feels too tired of life to make any effort about anything.
Symptoms to look out for include insomnia, although perversely the sufferer may spend much of their time in bed as an escape from the torment of daily life. Anger, despair, crying or apparent lack of emotion about anything can all be signs of depression, along with eating too much or too little.
Alzheimer’s is the most well-known type of dementia but there are other forms of this illness. Usually associated with the elderly, it can affect people of any age, causing great distress both to the sufferer and to his or her family members. Symptoms include forgetfulness above and beyond the absent-mindedness that affects us all from time to time.
Changes in routine, such as sleeping and waking times, confusion and behavioural disorders can all be indications of dementia. The disease itself is not curable, although it can often be halted and there are a number of treatments available to minimise symptoms.
More commonly known until recently as ‘manic depression’, bipolar disorder is characterised by severe mood swings. Sufferers experience great elation, sometimes accompanied by mania, hyperactivity and grandiose thoughts.
They then go to the other extreme, experiencing extreme lows and severe depression. The extreme changes of mood and character are exhausting for close family members as well as for the sufferer.
Medication is available which causes the brain to ‘plateau’ at an acceptable level and has proven to be extremely effective in the majority of cases. However, some sufferers object to losing the unrealistically happy feeling caused by their illness and prefer to try to manage without medication.
Anxiety is something that we all suffer from occasionally and it can be a positive and motivating force. However, for some people their anxiety is out of proportion to the situation or circumstances and it then becomes a limiting factor in the sufferer’s life. Experiencing panic, dread and uncontrollable shaking can make the sufferer feel completely out of control, causing them to panic even more until they are in a loop of anxiety.
Cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to be extremely effective in many cases, while prescription drugs can help to alleviate symptoms to provide some relief. Many anxious people find that therapies such as yoga and meditation can help them to regain control of their thoughts.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD can affect people in many different ways but it causes a great deal of stress and heartache to everyone involved. Sufferers become bound by a chain of actions that have to be performed over and over again in order to promote a feeling of wellbeing. For some people, this can be systematically checking that doors and windows are locked.
For others, it involves careful and methodical cleaning rituals. In extreme cases, sufferers are unable to live normal lives as so much of their time is taken up with ritual behaviours. As with anxiety, cognitive behavioural therapies can be helpful along with a carefully managed drug treatment plan to aid relaxation.
Thanks to media coverage, we have all become a little more accustomed to hearing about these disorders, which ultimately leads to a greater understanding of mental-health issues. Once a disorder is openly discussed on TV, radio or in the press, people start to gain some insights into the widespread nature of mental problems.
We do not judge people negatively because they have their arm in a sling or their leg in plaster and, hopefully, people will not be judged any differently just because they happen to suffer from a mental disorder.
The brain is a complicated mechanism that can malfunction just as easily as any other part of our bodies. A greater understanding of and sympathy for mental-health issues make it easier for people to be able to admit that they have a problem and are in need of help.