World Mental Health Day 2020 is observed on 10 October in order to spread awareness about emerging mental health issues. The World Health Organisation (WHO) insists that this is the time for all organisations, healthcare professionals and communities to invest in getting mental health in good order — or at least amp up drives to do so.
This year’s World Mental Health Day, on 10 October, comes at a time when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past months have brought many challenges. For health-care workers, providing care in difficult circumstances, going to work fearful of bringing COVID-19 home with them. For students, adapting to taking classes from home, with little contact with teachers and friends, and anxious about their futures. And may workers’ livelihoods are threatened. Also, the vast number of people are caught in poverty or in fragile humanitarian settings. And this is to say nothing of managing the grief of losing a loved one, sometimes without being able to say goodbye.
Major efforts to get individual mental health in good order needs to come from the individuals. This is because being self-aware and asking for help when needed are both actions that need to be taken at the individual level.
The following are some frequently asked questions that can dispel some ideas you may have about mental health;
1. How do I know if I or a friend has a mental health issue?
On World Mental Health Day 2020: There are many mental health issues and each one has a different set of symptoms. The US National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) points out, almost all of them have some common symptoms. These include excessive worrying, feeling too sad, confusion, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, and strong feelings of anger. The symptoms may be different in children, depending on their age. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a healthcare professional if you observe such symptoms in yourself or a loved one.
2. Can I “get over” a mental health issue without getting help?
Yes, there are medical conditions that run their course and go away in due time. But ignoring your mental health problems can have many different consequences. It may make your condition a lot worse or you may feel better for a while. But even if you feel better, there is no saying your condition won’t get worse soon. Like with every health concern, the sooner you get help, the easier it is to treat and manage the issue. The same applies to your mental health problems.
Celebrate World Mental Health Day 2020 by getting proper guidance from a mental health expert to make changes in your lifestyle and outlook so that you can recover.
3. Where do I go for help with my mental health?
Most hospitals, clinics and healthcare apps provide consultations with mental health professionals and you can directly reach out to them. Consult your regular doctor or family physician and ask them to refer you to a specialist.
4. Are all mental health professionals the same?
No. There are mainly two types of mental health professionals: psychiatrists and psychologists. Psychiatrists are medically-trained doctors who specialise in mental health and can prescribe medications. Psychologists have degrees in psychology, cannot prescribe medication, and usually provide psychotherapy which is also known as talk therapy. Who you get referred to for your health issue depends on the severity of your issue and the line of treatment best suited to your needs.
5. Can I get better without using antidepressant drugs or medications?
Whether you need antidepressants or not depends on the severity of your mental health problem. Usually, antidepressants or any other kind of medication is not prescribed in mild to moderate cases of depression. Cognitive defusion exercises like meditation, a healthy diet and maintaining sleep schedules are the interventions recommended in such cases. Antidepressants like SSRIs and SNRI are prescribed by a psychiatrist when a case ranges from moderate to severe.
6. Are antidepressants addictive? Will they change my personality?
Contrary to popular belief, antidepressants are not addictive. Prolonged use of antidepressants can lead to dependency. But dependency and addiction are not the same. Addiction is a type of mental illness. Medications like antidepressants that target neurotransmitters in the brain to remedy mental illness cannot lead to addiction. If there’s any class of medications that can be addictive, it’s painkillers and opioids, not antidepressants.
Also, antidepressants cannot alter your personality permanently if you take them with the proper guidance and prescription of a psychiatrist. In case of personality changes, the psychiatrist would lower the dose or change the medications to suit you better. Taking antidepressants can have some side effects in the beginning. These are usually resolved with an adjustment in the dosage or trying a different drug.
7. What do I do if people find out I get therapy or take antidepressants?
When you get an infection, the doctor prescribes a course of antibiotics, healthy diet and rest to cure you. You don’t give thoughts like “people will find out” or “what will they say” a second thought. You need to remember, and remind those around you too, that mental health issues are just like every other disease. What you need most to deal with any disease, including mental health issues, is an appropriate treatment, care and support. Leaving the shame and stigma behind is a key part of your recovery.
When there is no threat to you or someone else, what you speak to your doctor about is completely confidential. No one needs to know that you’re in therapy if you don’t want them to. You can have counselling through call, video, text and even email.