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Mental Health: All in the Head?

Several years ago, a simple search of newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the Internet was undertaken to discover the extent of media coverage of mental health issues. While it was discovered that the public was increasingly being exposed to these issues it did not indicate anything about the public’s understanding of, or attitudes to mental health.

In another investigation, however, 500 adults from the Klang Valley completed a survey questionnaire aimed specifically at discovering the answers to just these questions. They were asked about their understanding of mental health, their attitudes towards it, their knowledge about mental health treatments and the barriers stopping people from seeking help, and about their understanding of how mental health professionals are trained.

Let’s see how you would answer some of the True/False questions from the questionnaire used in the survey:

  1. Mental health is defined as the absence of mental disorders. True/False
  2. Mental health problems do not affect children. True/False
  3. During therapy, patients lie on a couch and talk about whatever comes to their mind. True/False
  4. “Psychologist” and “Psychiatrist” are referring to the same profession. True/False

The correct answer to each of the four questions is ‘FALSE’. How did you score? Surprisingly less than 50% of the respondents in the survey answered them correctly!!!

What is mental health?

Many people, when they hear the word mental health, think of it as the absence of serious and more obvious mental illness such as psychosis, neurosis, or schizophrenia. However, mental health problems may also include some of the everyday problems many of us experience from to-to-time. These may include, stress, depression, bereavement, relationship difficulties, and poor work performance.

Who seeks help?

The majority of people in the survey agreed that very few people seek help from mental health professionals. The reasons given for this included the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health problems (e.g. people with mental health problems are often dangerous or violent), concerns about the costs of treatment, lack of information about how to find the right professional for their needs, and not knowing if or when it’s really appropriate to seek help.

Over half the respondents were unaware that children were also vulnerable to mental health problems. Stresses at school (e.g. the examination-oriented educational system, peer pressure) and at home (e.g. parents’ high expectations, conflicts) may be among the contributors to children’s mental health problems.

Who can treat mental health problems?

Psychiatrists, psychologists, or some other healthcare professional? Confused by the difference between psychiatrists and psychologists? The two main differences involve training and approach to treatment. While the length of training is similar, Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have specialised in psychiatry, while psychologists are health professionals who are extensively trained in understanding human behaviour and in helping people to change their behaviour to improve their life circumstances. Because psychiatrists are medical practitioners, they are licensed to prescribe medications for some mental health problems. Psychologists, on the other hand, are not licensed to prescribe medication and use a range of non-medical evidence-based treatments to assist their patients.

During treatment, do mental health patients lie on a couch and talk about whatever comes to mind?

We have seen this over and over again in the movies but it is not the usual way of conducting treatment. The couch may be used as a tool to relax and allow the patient to feel comfortable; however, most therapy sessions with a psychologist are conducted without “the couch”.

There is no health without mental health!

Like physical health, mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood through to adulthood.

So, how is your mental health? Here is an easy mental health checklist:

  • Do you feel good about yourself?
  • Do you feel good about other people?
  • Are you able to meet your everyday life demands?

If you answered ‘No’ to any of these questions, you may benefit from seeing a health professional. Nobody has all the traits of good mental health all the time. Everyone feels worried, anxious, sad or stressed at times but if these feelings do not go away and are severe enough to interfere with your daily life, speak to your nearest mental health professional.

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