Maladies of the mind

On the account of World Mental Health Day tomorrow, here are some of the major mental health conditions that affect a large number of Indians

According to a WHO report released last year, about 56 million Indians suffer from depression, while 38 million battle anxiety disorders.

Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day. An integral part of health, mental health is more than the absence of mental illnesses, says the World Health Organization (WHO). It refers to a broad array of activities directly or indirectly related to mental well-being, prevention of mental disorders, and treatment and rehabilitation of people affected by mental disorders.

According to a WHO report released last year, about 56 million Indians suffer from depression, while 38 million battle anxiety disorders. In its 2015-16 survey, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Science (NIMHANS) found mental disorders affect nearly 10% of the Indian population.

Yet the awareness about mental health issues continues to be dismal. “Most people, even the educated ones, are ignorant about mental illnesses,” admits Dr Karthik K N, consultant psychiatrist, Sagar Hospitals, Bengaluru. “When there is no stigma about living with chronic diseases like diabetes or cardiac ailments, why should depression or schizophrenia be any different? Even in conditions such as panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), where there’s no cure per se, the right medical treatment can help one lead a healthy and productive life. The need of the hour is to acknowledge mental health conditions as real health problems, which occur due to changes in the neurotransmitters. We need to encourage early diagnosis and timely treatment,” he maintains.

Let’s look at some of the most common, yet misunderstood maladies of the mind:

Depression

When Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone spoke about her battle with depression, she voiced feelings of worthlessness, perpetual melancholy, and lack of confidence. Depression is a serious medical condition, a mood disorder, which is not the same as feeling blue. The symptoms include irritability, changes in appetite, fatigue, lack of concentration, insomnia or hypersomnia, loss of libido, and no pleasure in things that were once enjoyable.

Bipolar disorder is another mood disorder that involves fluctuations between extreme happiness (mania) and extreme sadness (depression). Contrary to popular perception, they are not caused by a weak will or character flaw. Mood disorders are a result of brain function that can be addressed with medications and/or therapy.

Schizophrenia

John Nash, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences in 1994, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. A psychotic disorder characterised by hallucinations and delusions, schizophrenia mars one’s ability to distinguish reality. Symptoms include disorganised speech and behaviour, inability to manage emotions, or relate to others. The risk of suicide is also high in people with schizophrenia.

Mental health
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that involves fluctuations between extreme happiness (mania) and extreme sadness (depression).

However, unlike what’s shown in the movies, most people living with schizophrenia are not violent. Also, it’s a myth that shock therapy, or electroconvulsive therapy, is the only treatment for mental health disorders. There are several medications, therapies and psychosocial rehabilitation options available today.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Olympic gold-medallist swimmer Michael Phelps was diagnosed with ADHD when he was barely nine. Although ADHD usually has its onset in childhood, it can persist through adolescence and adulthood. Characterised by inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness, people with ADHD may also have anxiety disorders. The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but research shows vital differences in the brains of people with ADHD. A combination of medication and therapy is known to help manage the condition.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

It took Grammy Award-winning singer Lady Gaga years to realise that her feelings of overwhelming anxiety and despair were symptoms of PTSD. The condition usually develops following a traumatic event; the singer was raped as a teenager.

The key symptom of PTSD is having repeated flashbacks or nightmares about the event. People with PTSD may also suffer from depression, leading to suicidal thoughts and behaviour. It’s important to ensure early diagnosis and manage the condition through the use of medication and intensive therapy.

Eating disorders

Legendary singer Elton John struggled with bulimia for several years before he sought treatment. Based on an unhealthy relationship with food and obsession with body weight, eating disorders have a huge impact on one’s emotions, attitudes and day-to-day behaviour. Whether it’s anorexia nervosa (characterised by a strong desire to be thin), or bulimia nervosa (characterised by binge eating followed by purging), eating disorders often co-exist with other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders or OCD. Treatment typically includes a combination of psychotherapy, nutrition education, medical monitoring and medications.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s self-confessed urge to walk through a doorway several times is a classic, even if milder, case of OCD. A type of anxiety disorder, OCD is characterised by constant thoughts or irrational fears that cause one to perform certain rituals or routines.

The symptoms may include being afraid of dirt and germs, excessive washing and cleaning, wanting to have things in a particular order, checking things frequently, repeating acts, words or numbers in a particular pattern. Research shows that the disorder may be caused by genetic, psychological, environmental, as well as developmental factors. People with OCD are at a higher risk of abusing alcohol and drugs. Although there is no cure, medication and therapy are known to reduce the severity and frequency of OCD episodes.

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