FAQS On Depression & Other Mental Health Issues
Q. What is a mental health disorder?
A. Psychological or mental disorders refer to a wide range of mental health conditions that affect our mood, thinking, behavior, ability to interact and day to day functioning and which require professional treatment. They also affect the body, like feelings of increased heart beat and tremors in anxiety and aches and pains in depression.
Q. What causes mental disorders?
A. We still do not know as much as we would like to about how a person develops mental disorders. Mental disorders are caused due to a complex interplay of genetic causes or inherited vulnerabilities, prenatal care injuries or difficulties, exposure to toxins, or other unknown sources. Environmental factors and living conditions like poverty, homelessness, overcrowding, frequent exposure to violence, abusive parents or severe marital or relationship problems also contribute to the development of a mental illness.
Q. How common are mental disorders?
A. Globally, mental illness has affected over 450 million people, and 80% of them live in middle and low income countries. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suggests that 6-7% of India’s population suffers from mental disorders with about 1% suffering from severe mental disorders. Mental Illnesses like Schizophrenia and Bi-polar disorder are prevalent in about 200 cases per 10000 people. The burden of these disorders is likely to increase to 15% by 2020.
Q. What are the common mental disorders?
A. There are over 200 categories of mental illness affecting different age groups from childhood to old age. However, they can be divided into certain categories like psychotic disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, somatoform and pain disorders, substance abuse, sexual disorders, neuropsychiatrc disorders like dementia.
Q. What are the common signs of a mental illness?
A. A mental illness does not appear out of the blue. Each mental illness has its own set of signs and symptoms and the symptom profile may vary from person to person. But some of the common signs to look out for are:
Confused thinking and suspiciousness, prolonged depression (sadness or irritability), feelings of extreme highs and lows, excessive fears, worries and anxieties, social withdrawal, dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits, strong feelings of anger, excessive stress which impedes with the ability to cope with daily problems and activities, numerous complaints of physical ailments or believe that one has a serious illness in absence of any evidence, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse.
If you are wondering whether you or someone you know could have mental illness then
Q. What are the common anxiety disorders?
A. Maya has fear of closed spaces and she feels uneasy in getting into lifts, aeroplanes and theatres. She tries her best to avoid these places.
Kumar experiences extreme episodes of anxiety where he gets shortness of breath, pain in the chest and a feeling that he is going to die.
Deepa finds herself worrying about every little activity in the day, thinking what if things go wrong.
These people have different kind of anxiety. Specific anxiety disorders include phobias, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder.
Q. What is the difference between the blues and depression?
A. If you feel sad all day long, have crying spells, feel a lack of interest in earlier pleasurable activities and experience unusual tiredness and fatigue and this persists for a couple of weeks, you are suffering from depression. Depression or depressive disorder is an illness which leads to persistent sad mood, lack of interest and fatigue and an inability to function on a day to day basis. There is accompanied by a lack of confidence, lack of attention and concentration, feelings of guilt and suicidal ideation or even attempt. It requires medical attention and treatment.
If you are feeling sad because your best friend has just moved to another town and you miss her and this makes you cry on and off, you are having the blues. Sad mood or the blues is a normal reaction to life circumstances. The person feels sad but does not also lose interest in activities or feel a lack of energy. This state is temporary. Usually there are no suicidal thoughts and the person can be helped by a sympathetic ear or help with making some practical changes in the situation.
Q. How do I know if someone is feeling suicidal?
A. “Everyone will be better off without me’, ‘I don’t want to live anymore’, ‘Life is too hard, I don’t want to deal with it anymore’. These are some of the statements that a person with suicidal ideations may make. They may also start putting certain affairs or their things in order, older people may suddenly write a will. They may be reading or asking around on best ways to kill oneself. A person with depression is more susceptible to suicide. Certain life events like failures in exams or one that could be perceived as shameful by a person can make them impulsively attempt suicide and these events should caution family and friends. Family and friends are the first to know about these warning signs and can help by encouraging the person to talk about it to a professional. Contact a suicide help line for immediate help.
Hotline - Delhi - 011 2338 9090, Mumbai: +91 22 2754 6669.
Q. What are the common mental problems of old age?
A. Depression and dementias are most common mental health issues of old age. Retirement, divorce, widowhood, loneliness, isolation, depression, changing neurobiological structures and chronic physical illness all make an elderly person vulnerable to mental health issues. Certain medications themselves cause side effects like depression.
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Q. How is a child diagnosed with a mental illness?
A. Anita is a bright, sensitive 9 year old who has been experiencing excruciating stomach pain and she even falsely got operated on for appendicitis! It is later discovered in therapy that she worries that her father who has to fly out on work will meet with an accident and wishes that he didn’t have to leave.
Many of the psychological problems in children present with physical illnesses; like school anxiety or separation anxiety may present as stomach pains and headaches at a specific time or situation. Diagnosis usually begins with a medical doctor who takes a lengthy history and examines the child to rule out physical reasons for the difficulties. Once physical reasons have been discarded a referral to a psychiatrist or a psychologist is made. Most often, the two will work together to provide a combination of therapy and medication. Direct referrals can also be made to a school psychologist if available, who then does the needful.
Q. What are some of the common mental disorders in children?
A. Almost all disorders of adulthood can also afflict children even though the presentation and treatment may differ. The following disorders are common in childhood:
o Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
o Eating problems
o Bladder and bowel control issues
o Feelings of sadness, or moodiness
o Conduct problems, disruptive behaviours
o Learning disorders, such as dyslexia
o Involuntary movements, or tics
o Schizophrenia, or distorted thoughts and feelings
Q. Can substance abuse (alcohol/smoking/drugs) affect our mental health?
A. Here are some ways in which substance abuse affects mental health:
Apart from the commonly experienced black outs, chronic use of some drugs of abuse can cause long-lasting changes in the brain, which may lead to suspiciousness, depression, aggression, and hallucinations.
Substance abuse can make a mental illness worse or even lead to new symptoms. They also interact with other psychotropic medications and make them less effective.
Substance abuse can bring forward a disease if you have inherent vulnerabilities to it.
Q. Who is the best person to treat a mental illness?
A. There are specialists who treat mental disorders like Psychiatrists and Clinical Psychologists but in many cases the primary care doctor may diagnose and treat your mental illness. The primary doctors depending on assessment of the severity of case will refer you to a specialist.
Psychologists: Psychologists are trained in diagnosis, assessment and treatment of mental illnesses. They can specialize in different areas like depression and anxiety therapy, child therapy, marital therapy and family therapy etc.
Psychiatrists: These professionals are medical doctors who specialize in the treatment of mental, emotional, or behavioral problems. A psychiatrist can prescribe medications and may establish therapy sessions to treat the patient.
Q. Can mental issues get better without medication?
A. Mental disorder is a disease of the brain just like diabetes is a disease of the kidney and it is wrong to believe that in case of severe depression or anxiety, they can get better without medication. Serious mental illness like mood disorders and many of the anxiety disorders require medication but once the symptoms remit and improvement sustains, medication can be tapered and stopped. However, just taking medication is not helpful in teaching better coping skills or life style strategies for long term change. Therapy and counseling are needed even in cases of severe depression and anxiety.
psychologist or psychiatrist!
Q. Can I take alternative treatment with psychiatric medicines?
A. Though alternative medications like Ayurveda and Homepathy are considered to be free of side effects, they may interact with psychiatric medication. It is imperative to consult the prescribing doctor about the alternative medicine before you start it.
Q. Can yoga treat mental disorders?
A. Yoga should not be used to replace ongoing medication and psychotherapy for mental disorders. However, research shows that it gives excellent benefits as an add on to other treatments for mental-health issues ranging from depression, schizophrenia, ADHD to sleep complaints. Some of the studies even suggest that yoga might affect the body in ways similar to antidepressants and psychotherapy by boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Q. Can a mental illness once treated, recur?
A. Because mental illnesses works like any physical illness, in the absence of optimal health conditions, the mental illness may recur. The management of the illness should include attention to lifestyle, stress management, supports and also medication options. Ongoing psychotherapy or counseling helps in maintaining improvement and also early occurrence of symptoms.
Q. My spouse has depression. How can I be supportive?
A. Mental illness can prove tough on a marriage. The mental illness your spouse suffers is nobody's fault. It is a misfortunate illness. It is not automatic grounds for divorce, any more than other disabilities. There is no magic that can make the illness disappear, so don't feel compelled to try. All you can do is be supportive and loving and handle the every day details and practical issues of life for him/her that he/she cannot cope with. Make sure that he/she is complaint with treatment. You can start by educating yourself about the illness. Help the children learn and accept their parent’s illness. Be patient in listening to his/her complaints, however don’t take over tasks that he/she is still capable of doing. Convey a sense of hope and positivity.
Q. Sometimes the therapist wants to have sessions with other family members of the patient with the mental health issue. Why is that?
A. A therapist can chose to have sessions with various other family members to either get clarifications on history of illness, explore different contributors to the illness or to involve them in treatment aspects. Parents are especially involved in treatment of children and adolescents. Sometimes family or marital therapy may be seen a crucial to the treatment of the index patient.
Q. What are some of the resources on mental disorders that I can have free access to?
A. ePsyClinic offers a variety of mental health and wellness resources available for your use. For example, our articles are aimed at self-help and empowerment. They address different issues commonly found today. These may be mental health issues or issues related to for example, relationships, children, work etc. We have tried to create as many categories and provide as much information as possible. Emergency resources like helpline numbers, websites and forums are also available for you to look at.
If you are wondering whether you or someone you know could have mental illness then