Shailesh Sharma 25 Feb 2019

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is an integral part of overall health and general well-being. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

In simple words, mental health relates to how we think, feel, and behave. It also includes the social aspect of an individual. For example, how they interact with other persons in their community, and how they continue to live as a social being.

A Quick Overview of Mental Health Problems and Causes

Just as the human brain is the most complicated organ, the causes of mental health problems are complex. They result due to a combination of several internal and external factors. These can include:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or chemical imbalance in the brain
  • Life experiences, such as trauma, abuse, loss of loved ones, or stress
  • A family history of mental health problems

Likewise, if a pregnant woman is exposed to toxins, virus, and harmful substances like alcohol, it can cause problems in the newborn.

Warning Signs of Mental Health Problems You Should Not Miss

 You cannot diagnose a mental illness by yourself. You will need a professional to confirm the diagnosis.

However, if you or anyone you love shows abnormal behaviors and feelings, it could indicate a problem. Below are some warning signs you should not miss.

  • Too much or too little eating or sleeping
  • Personality changes
  • Staying alone most of the time
  • A lack of energy to do daily activities
  • Hopelessness and/or helplessness
  • Aches and pains that are not obvious
  • Overindulgence in smoking, drinking or illicit drugs
  • Talking about suicide
  • Increased irritability
  • Mental confusion
  • Unnecessary worry and anger
  • Fear without a cause
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Unable to remember usual things
  • Fighting with family and friends
  • Abnormal ups and downs in mood within a short span of time
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • Thoughts of self-harm or harming others
  • Loss of interest in daily activities


Treatment for mental illness often includes a combination of drugs and non-drug approaches.

Depending on the severity of illness and a person’s unique personality traits, treatment can include Medications such as antidepressants, or other therapies such as:

  • Psychoanalysis: it involves the study of the mind and the way it works. Knowing this can help trace the root of mental illness.
  • Behavior modification: replacement of undesirable behavior with desirable ones.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): tracking the faulty thinking process that can cause mental health problems and developing coping strategies to counter their effects.
  • Humanistic therapy: helping a person gain clear sight of the purpose and meaning of life.  
  • Psychodynamic therapy: like psychoanalysis, psychodynamic therapy studies the mind but to a deeper level.

Should You See a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist?

When seeking help for mental illness, most people often get confused about where to go and what to ask.

People usually visit a general practitioner who can refer them to a psychologist or a psychiatrist. You may directly see any of these professionals without a referral from your doctor. However, in such cases, your insurance may not cover the cost of the treatment.

Both psychologists and psychiatrists are trained in diagnosing and treating mental illness. They understand how the brain works and how it will affect your thinking process and actions. In fact, both use different types of psychotherapy to treat a number of mental illness.

However, there are some differences as well. The major difference is that a psychiatrist has the authority to prescribe medications to treat mental illness. On the other hand, a psychologist cannot prescribe any drug. Thus, people with severe illness that requires a drug usually visit a psychiatrist rather than a psychologist.

Additionally, a psychiatrist can order hospital admission but a psychologist cannot.

Briefly, we can say the choice of a specific health professional depends on the severity of illness, your preference, and the cost of the treatment.

Mental Health Problems: Top 10 Myths and Facts

When it comes to a serious issue like health, notably, mental health, it is critically important to distinguish myths from facts. Doing so will not only improve your attitude towards illness but also protect those with the problems from unnecessary discrimination, judgment, and isolation.

Below are the top 10 mental illness myths, along with facts.

Myth 1: Mental illness has no cure and runs for a lifetime.

Fact: A full recovery from mental illness is possible provided a person receives the right treatment at the right time.

In some cases, mental illness can run for longer durations and may come back after successful treatment. These cases require lifelong treatment.

Again, this does not make the condition as dangerous as it is projected to be. There are many incurable disorders, such as diabetes, which can be controlled and lived with.

The bottom line is people with mental illness can live normal and productive lives and they should not be isolated.

Myth 2: Mental illness is present at birth.

Fact: Not every ill person is born with the condition. Some may develop mental illness later in life due to a multitude of factors. For example, stress, poor economic condition, long-term disorders, abuse, or disability.

Some kinds of mental illness such as bipolar disorder may run in families, but such predisposition is often triggered by the external factors mentioned above.

Myth 3: Mental illness is specific to certain types of people.

Fact: Mental health problems may affect anyone irrespective of their age, education, social status or culture.

Myth 4: Mental illness is a result of personal weakness.

Fact: Personal weakness has nothing to do with mental illness. You don’t become mentally ill because you are weak or have a character flaw. Therefore, you should not refrain from seeking help and accepting your condition. In fact, acknowledging that you have a mental illness is the first step to recovery.

Myth 5: Mental ill people are a burden to society and pose a threat.

Fact: All mentally ill people are not dangerous. The false perception of threat is simply a stereotype. In rare cases, they may pose a threat to their carers; however, medications can calm them down.

Myth 6: Mental illness means brain damage.

Fact: Brain damage caused by an injury may lead to mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. However, mental illness is not a sign of brain damage. It’s just a sign that their brain functions are not normal and they need medical care.

Myth 7: Strong will or motivation can treat mental illness.

Fact: This is a cliché popularized by movies but has nothing to do in real life. Because mental illness does not result from personal weakness, being “mentally” strong does not treat your illness. What you need is professional treatment with drugs and counseling.

Myth 8: Isolation is the only treatment for people with mental illness.

Fact: Hospitalizations may be necessary only in severe cases. Most people recover without hospital care. In any case, isolation and confinement are NOT necessary. Modern treatment approaches have almost completely eradicated the need for isolation, which used to be the main line of treatment in the past.

Myth 9: Kids have no mental health problems.

Mental health problems can develop at any stage of life. It’s only a matter of time when they become detectable. In fact, many issues are prevalent during the teen years.

Myth 10: People who are taking medications to treat their illness cannot perform well academically or professionally

It is true that certain medications can affect a person’s thinking, alertness, or sleep. Nonetheless, the effect is quite unlikely to affect their productivity and performance once they are able to resume their job.

This article was written to provide some insight into Mental Illness. If you have any other questions, talk to your doctor.

To search for psychologists in India, ThailandLondonMalaysia and more, use the Mya Care Search Engine.

About the Author:
Shailesh Sharma is a registered pharmacist and medical content writer from Nepal. He enjoys digging into latest findings of research and strongly believes in evidence-based health information. He graduated from Pokhara University School of Health and Allied Sciences and was engaged in clinical pharmacy and academia in various regions of Nepal for almost 9 years. Shailesh also serves as Project Manager of Graduate Pharmacists’ Association, Nepal (GPAN).


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