This issue should be at the center conversations with family and in society to ensure emotional wellbeing, manage stress, and make good decisions.
Advisor: Antonio Carlos Toro Obando
In our culture, there is a lot of talk about wellness being a desirable goal. The Royal Academy of Spanish Language defines it as a set of elements that a person needs to live well. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers that health is “complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not only the absence of symptoms or illnesses.” Achieving and maintaining this is one of the goals being promoted starting with mental health in order to prevent illnesses that alter thoughts or behavior.
Mental health is so important that it can affect how we deal with stress, how we relate to each other, and how we make decisions in life. Because of this, Antonio Carlos Toro Obando, psychiatrist and professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the Universidad de Antioquia, explains that a healthy lifestyle is the main mechanism for maintaining physical as well as mental and emotional health, because one cannot exist without the other. “Scientific evidence shows the impact that exercise has on the prevention and treatment of disorders related to depression and anxiety. From all areas of medicine we have to talk about physical activity as part of the treatment. It is like a pill: the same rigor we have with medication we should have with physical activity.”
Good nutrition, quality sleep, having a motivating job or plan are also crucial in the search for wellbeing. “It has been shown that the main antidote for loneliness and hopelessness is having a job or some other meaningful activity. It is fundamental for people to be involved in an activity that represents something important to them, through social contact, in order to feel recognized and important; or to have a routine. This is really important in preventing negative effects on mental health,” adds the psychiatrist.
Being part of an environment that allows for a mind-body friendly lifestyle is key. Other factors are related to access to education, social relationships, as well as the protection and respect of civil rights. “Without the security and liberty that these rights provide, it is very difficult to maintain a good level of mental health,” states the WHO on its website.
For this reason, mental health is talked about as something that affects, positively as well as negatively, a community, family, company, city, and even a country, and the implementation of actions to promote this has become a priority. Mental health for all: Greater investment – Greater access Everyone, Everywhere is the slogan promoted this year for World Mental Health Day (October 10). At the 2018 World Economic Forum a report was presented that showed a rise in mental illnesses in every country in the world, an increase that if not treated soon enough could cost the global economy billions in losses by 2030.
Now, with the arrival of the Coronavirus, conditions changed and the number of people with mental illnesses increased: one in every four people suffers from a mental illness, according to the WHO. “There has never been so much talk about this aspect as we have had in recent months. I think we are becoming more interested in our quality of life and are learning to integrate the need for mental health into our daily lives,” adds Toro Obando.
The lack of knowledge about mental illnesses has played a key role in the creation of myths and prejudices surrounding them. “Crazy, psychiatric, hysterical, exaggerated, obsessive” are some of the words used to refer to someone who has symptoms related to a mental illness, because many people do not differentiate between disorders. For those who do not know about these illnesses, every patient seems to have the same characteristics.
There are also people who reduce the symptoms to mere whims, telling the patients that what they have is not a real illness. Education is one of the fronts promoted by the Pan American Health Organization to reinforce their response to treatment given to mental illnesses in the region. Patients and families have the opportunity to seek counseling, to understand what these changes in behavior are and how they deal with everyday situations in life.
After this stage of information, it is ideal to start talking about the subject calmly, in everyday conversation, as with other diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure, and thus transform the imaginary ideas that exist around mental illnesses.
A road to mental health
- Engaging in conversations: is the simplest way to understand and support those suffering from a mental illness. This is an unknown world for many, which is why the patient as well as family and friends can feel overwhelmed with the symptoms, especially if they have never had similar experiences.
- Asking helps preventing: How do you feel? Do you need help? A simple question at the right time can decrease the chances of a patient doing something life-threatening. It will also give them the reassurance they need to talk openly about their emotions.
- Avoiding isolation: “during this pandemic, it is necessary to understand that we are in the middle of physical distancing, not social distancing. We can use all the tools available to maintain communication with family and friends, and if necessary, keep in contact with a mental health professional,” explains doctor Toro Obando.
- Attention to detail: “understanding that we are all going through a difficult and stressful time; however, some people do not treat these emotions and develop depression or anxiety. So, if we see that someone we know is not sleeping, not eating, or does not have energy, we should seek help for whatever they are going through.”
- Be very well informed about treatment options: the professional emphasizes that there are many ways to treat a mental illness. “There are no mandatory options, nothing can be done against the patient’s will, especially when it comes to medicine. This is why it is our responsibility as professionals to provide them with all the available treatment options, even from other specialties.”
Active listening, which implies asking without judging, is key for understanding someone else’s situation and supporting those who are going through a difficult time with their mental health.