Mental health articles

OF mental health care and mentally ill

Why should you be concerned about mental illness?

There are many reasons why you need to be concerned about mental illnesses.

• Because they affect us all. It is estimated that one in five of all adults will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime. This shows how common mental health problems are. Anyone can suffer a mental health problem.

• Because they are a major public health burden. Studies from nearly every corner of the world show that as much as 40% of all adults attending general health care services are suffering from some kind of mental illness. Many of the people attending general or community heath services seek help for vague physical health problems, which may be called ‘psychosomatic’ or something similar. Many of them are actually suffering from a mental health problem.

• Because they are very disabling. Even though the popular belief is that mentalillnesses are less serious than physical illness, they do in fact producesevere disability. They can also cause death, as a result of suicide andaccidents. Some people suffer from a mental illness and a physical illness; in such persons the mental illness can make the out comeof the physical illness worse. The World Health Report from the World Health Organization in 2001 found that four out of the tenmost disabling conditions in the world were mental illnesses.Depression was the most disabling disorder, ahead of anaemia,malaria and all other health problems.

• Because mental health services are very inadequate. There is a severe shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals in most countries. These specialists spend most oftheir time caring for people who suffer from severe mental disorders (‘psychoses’). These arequite rare, but are also the very diseases that the community associates with mental illness.Most people with the much commoner types of mental health problems, such as depression oralcohol problems, would not consult a mental health specialist. General health workers are ideally placed to treat these illnesses.

• Because our societies are rapidly changing. Many societies around the world are facing dramatic economic and social changes. The social fabric of the community is changing as a result of rapid development and the growth of cities, migration, widening income inequality, and rising levels of both unemployment and violence. These factors are all linked to poor mental health.

• Because mental illness leads to stigma. Most people with a mental healthproblem would never admit to it. Those with a mental illness areoften discriminated against by the community and their family. They are often not treated sympathetically by health workers.

• Because mental illness can be treated with simple, relatively inexpensive methods. It is true that many mental illnesses cannot be ‘cured.However, many physical illnesses, such as cancers, diabetes,high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis, are also not curable. Yet, much can be done to improve the quality of life of those who suffer these conditions and the same applies to mental illness.

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