Mental Health: Overview

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Dr Sacrifice Chirisa  Mental Health Matters
Mental health is a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with challenges and stress. Mental health is essential to personal wellbeing, family and interpersonal relationships, and the ability to contribute to community or society.

Mental disorders are medical health conditions that are characterised by alterations in thinking, mood, and/or behaviour that are associated with distress and/or impaired functioning. Mental illness is the term that refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders.

Why is mental health important?

Mental disorders are among the most common causes of disability. The resulting disease burden of mental illness is among the highest of all diseases. In any given year, an estimated 20 percent (3 million) of Zimbabweans suffer from any mental illness and 4 percent (630 000) suffer from a seriously debilitating mental illness.

Neuropsychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability in Zimbabwe accounting for 18,7 percent of all years of life lost to disability and premature mortality especially from suicide in under 35 years of age.

Mental health and physical health are closely connected. Mental health plays a major role in people’s ability to maintain good physical health. Mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, affect people’s ability to participate in health-promoting behaviours and drug compliance.

In turn, problems with physical health, such as chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, HIV and kidney failure among others can have a serious impact on mental health and decrease a person’s ability to participate in treatment and recovery.

Understanding mental health and mental disorders are a result of the interaction of social, environmental, and genetic factors throughout the lifespan. In behavioural health, researchers identify:

  • Risk factors, which predispose individuals to mental illness
  • Protective factors, which protect them from developing mental disorders

The understanding of how the brain functions under normal conditions and in response to stressors, combined with knowledge of how the brain develops over time, has been essential to understand and explain mental illness. What’s crucial and key is input in early life:

  • The greatest opportunity for prevention is among young people that why school programs are going to be key in prevention of mental health.
  • There are multi-year effects of multiple preventive interventions on reducing substance abuse, conduct disorder, antisocial behaviour, aggression, and child maltreatment
  • The incidence of depression among pregnant women and adolescents can be reduced
  • School based violence prevention can reduce the base rate of aggressive problems in an average school by 25 to 33 percent
  • There are potential indicated preventive interventions for schizophrenia
  • Improving family functioning and positive parenting can have positive outcomes on mental health and can reduce poverty-related risk
  • School-based preventive interventions aimed at improving social and emotional outcomes can also improve academic outcomes
  • Interventions targeting families dealing with adversities, such as parental depression or divorce, can be effective in reducing risk for depression among children and increasing effective parenting
  •  Some preventive interventions have benefits that exceed costs, with the available evidence strongest for early childhood interventions
  • Implementation is complex, and it is important that interventions be relevant to the target audiences

As the new year starts we must take greater interest in mental health like we have never done.

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