Dr Tatenda Simango
I hope I find you in good health. The Covid-19 pandemic has made me realise the gap our health system is not addressing adequately; mental health. Our culture compounds the situation, it does not recognise (amongst others) stress, depression, bereavement as health matters that need a doctor or attention with the same measure, as say Covid–19.
Moreover suicide is classified as a taboo, but at times is seemingly the only way out for people struggling with their mental health.
Mental health refers to cognitive, behavioral, and emotional well-being. It is all about how people think, feel, and behave. Mental health can affect daily living, relationships, and physical health.
Factors in people’s lives, interpersonal connections, and physical factors can all contribute to mental health disruptions. Looking after mental health can preserve a person’s ability to enjoy life. Doing this involves reaching a balance between life activities, responsibilities, and efforts to achieve psychological resilience.
Conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety can all affect mental health and disrupt a person’s routine. Although the term mental health is in common use, many conditions that doctors recognise as psychological disorders have physical roots.
The World Health Organisation stress that mental health is “more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.” Peak mental health is about not only avoiding active conditions but also looking after ongoing wellness and happiness.
Everyone has some risk of developing a mental health disorder, no matter their age, sex, income, or ethnicity. Social and financial circumstances, biological factors, and lifestyle choices can all shape a person’s mental health.
Continuous social and economic pressure is one of the leading causes of disruption of mental health in Zimbabwe.
Having limited financial capacity can increase the risk of mental health disorders. People with a “weak economic status” also scored highest for mental health conditions.
Mental health is determined by modifiable factors, which can change over time, and non-modifiable factors, which are permanent. Modifiable factors for mental health disorders include: socioeconomic conditions, occupation, a person’s level of social involvement, education, housing quality.
Non-modifiable factors include: gender, age, ethnicity, sexual partner preferance
Researchers found that being female increased the risk of low mental health status by 3.96 times. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness.
There has been seen to be a genetic link to mental health but having a gene with links to a mental health disorder, such as depression or schizophrenia, does not guarantee that a condition will develop. Likewise, people without related genes or a family history of mental illness can still have mental health issues.
Mental health conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety may develop due to underlying, life-changing physical health problems, such as cancer, diabetes, Covid-19 and chronic pain. People with these conditions have severe fear or anxiety, which relates to certain objects or situations. Most people with an anxiety disorder will try to avoid exposure to whatever triggers their anxiety.
The patient suffering from physical health problems is the obvious one to give care but always the caregiver struggles quietly with mental health and feels it selfish to deal with their own anxieties, fears and depression.
Examples of anxiety disorders include: Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), Panic disorders and phobias.
People should look out for the following as possible signs of a mental health disorder: withdrawing from friends, family and colleagues, avoiding activities that they would normally enjoy, sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or too little, feeling hopeless, having consistently low energy, using mood-altering substances, including alcohol and nicotine, more frequently, displaying negative emotions, being confused, being unable to complete daily tasks, such as getting to work or cooking a meal, having persistent thoughts or memories that reappear regularly, thinking of causing physical harm to themselves or others, hearing voices, experiencing delusions.
Treatment is dependent on each individual situation. The important thing is to have insight into the problem. When the patient realises that they have a problem it is a significant step in working towards a solution. Talking about ones struggles to a trusted friend or relative can be a great help.
Psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, and some primary care physicians carry out cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy, as examples, of treatment. It can help people understand the root of their mental illness and start to work on more healthful thought patterns that support everyday living and reduce the risk of isolation and self-harm. Some people take prescribed medications, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anxiolytic drugs.
A person coping with mental health difficulties will usually need to make changes to their lifestyle to facilitate wellness. Such changes might include reducing alcohol intake, sleeping more, and eating a balanced, nutritious diet.
People may need to take time away from work or resolve issues with personal relationships that may be causing damage to their mental health.
People with conditions such as an anxiety or depressive disorder may benefit from relaxation techniques, which include deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. Having a support network, whether via self-help groups or close friends and family, can also be essential to recovery from mental illness.
Dr Tatenda Simango can be contacted on [email protected] Book an appointment on https://9thavenuesurgery.co.zw/