Mental health is as important as our physical well-being. Unfortunately, most of us don’t see it that way and would rarely get treated for a problem. Probably we are unaware of the critical connection between the two or don’t wish to acknowledge it. Fear, ignorance and the social stigma associated with mental illnesses also cause a majority of us to hide rather than acknowledge them.
Statistics show that one in every five Canadians will have a mental health problem at some point in their lives. Alarmingly, it already prevents nearly 500,000 Canadians from attending work each week. Also, it does not discriminate—affecting males and females of all ages, cultural and socio-economic groups. Which means no one is immune.
Worry, fear and depression which are often at the root of mental illness can derail every aspect of our lives. A cousin and an ex-colleague learned this the hard way, after more than a decade of mental and physical suffering. Both ladies experienced severe hand eczema which caused their fingers to bleed. The condition limited many simple daily activities. Once they figured out that it was brought on by anxiety, they were able to control flareups and finally be free of the problem. Without a doubt, greater awareness of their emotional state and its physical effects would have saved them a great deal of pain. The condition also caused depression which further affected their quality of life.
A 2008 report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information showed that Canadians with symptoms of depression experience three times as many chronic physical conditions as the general population. That’s why healthcare experts say understanding the link between mind and body is key to reducing the occurrence of co-existing conditions as well as supporting those already living with a mental illness.
Anxiety, for instance, plays an important role in GI tract problems and chronic respiratory disorders as well as heart disease. Studies reveal that when anxiety is untreated in individuals with these disorders, the disease is more difficult to treat, and physical symptoms worsen. In some cases the afflicted individuals may even die sooner. Conversely severe anxiety can also be the cause of these physical ailments.
According to the Government of Canada website, anxiety disorders are the most common of mental health problems in the country. Yet if a spouse, child or elderly parent talked about anxiety, chances are we would ignore it. But there is a difference between occasional and frequent, persistent worry. The latter is typically out of proportion to the danger, difficult to control and can cause one to avoid places and situations. Symptoms may start during childhood or the teen years and continue into adulthood. So, we need to listen to our children closely and take their fears and worries more seriously.
The real problem is the fact that most of us don’t see mental illness as a life threatening condition like cancer or heart disease. However, the rising number of suicides say other wise. Stats from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health show over 4,000 Canadians die by suicide every year i.e. an average of 11 per day. Moreover, 70 per cent of mental health problems have their onset during childhood and adolescence. Young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than any other age group. This is not just a Canadian problem but a global one as the World Health Organization estimates that one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds.
A difficult time in one’s life, relationship problems or a combination of things that have built up over time can cause severe anxiety and depression. (As can the challenges of adjusting to life in a new country, I might add.) People with mental illness are also two times more likely to have a substance use problem versus the general population.
While we are all aware of the growing number of mental health cases, few are willing to discuss it especially in a family setting. If you notice any changes in your child or spouse’s mood, behaviour or functioning, discuss it with them and your family physician. Don’t expect them to sort it out without professional help. Mental illnesses are treatable and timely attention saves lives.
There is no health without mental health. So, we must pay equal attention to our physical and emotional well-being! -CINEWS