MINISTRY of HEALTH Vanuatu
Mental Health Newsletter December 2019
The 3rd of December 2019 was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
The Biopsychosocial Model of Health
Mental health experts do not just look at the mental health or mental illness in isolation to the rest of the body or the rest of someone’s life. When conducting an assessment, they take into account:
- Biological factors, or what is going on in the body
- Psychological factors, or what is going on in the mind, and
- Social factors, or what is going on with other people.
Difficulties in any of these areas can make it more difficult to be both mentally healthy and physically healthy. Likewise, improving someone’s mental, physical or social capacity can also reduce the risk of someone suffering from poor physical health or a psychiatric illness.
What is a Disability?
According to the World Health Organisation, Disabilities are anything that limit activities, restrict participation and impair functioning. They can cause problems in body function or structure, make it difficult to execute a task or an action, and reduce involvement in life situations. A disability can occur on a mental, intellectual, physical, developmental, or sensory level.
Disabilities are NOT just physical health problems. They are always an interaction between the individual’s body, their mental state and the features of the society in which they live. Some societies are much more inclusive, with greater accessibility to neccessary services and activities and less stigma. We can all do things at a societal level to reduce stigma towards people with disabilities and increase the likelihood of physical, emotional, psychological, and social needs being met.
We Need to Take Mental Health More Seriously
When we feel sick, have a headache or a cold, most of us eventually try to do something about it if we can. We may take medicine or if it becomes worse, we might visit the hospital or a doctor.
However, if we cannot stop worrying or feel very stressed, are excessively angry or very emotional and unhappy all the time, we often carry on as though nothing is wrong.
It is estimated that in in most countries one-in-four people will at some stage in their lives suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, yet less than half receive any form of treatment.
The Connection between Good Physical Health and Mental Health
There is a strong connection between the mind and body. If you are in physical pain, your work and family life may be affected or you may not be able to do the activities you enjoy. This can lead to stress, anxiety and depression. Various research studies have confirmed this connection, noting that people with physical health problems are three times more likely to seek mental health care than those without a physical condition.
Just as physical health problems can lead to mental distress, mental health disorders can impair physical health (for example, by causing sleep disturbances or impairing immune function). When both mental and physical problems co-occur, doctors typically focus solely on the physical complaint and the cycle of illness continues. However, if the mental health problem is addressed, many patients report improvements in their physical health.
One study in 2003 found that the treatment of depression in patients experiencing chronic pain led to reduced pain and better overall health. When the pain was reduced, people were also more physical, more outgoing and socially engaging. These behaviors’ have a positive impact on the person’s life. People with improved mental and physical health are more productive and this may lead to greater financial stability.
When people are disabled by either a physical or mental condition they may not be able to work. They may need time off or they may become unproductive, lose opportunities or people around them may lose confidence in their ability to be part of the work team. This in turn may make the sufferer lose confidence in themselves and this could lead to economic and financial stress on themselves and their families.
In some cases undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions may lead to more complex problems and behaviors, e.g. anti-social or illegal behaviours. This then places the individual in conflict with society and in some cases may end with them becoming homeless or incarcerated. Studies in Australia, Europe and the US have found that persons with untreated psychiatric illnesses make up one third of the unemployment and homeless population and are overly represented in prison populations.
Mental illness places strain on the family
Mental illness affects families as well as individuals. The children of people with mental illness are at greater risk of abuse, neglect, and a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues. Since they cannot look to their parents for help, they often isolate themselves from friends and many do not receive needed social support. In many cases, the effects carry over into adulthood, where they can then pass their mental health issues onto their own children. However, those who seek mental health treatment can reduce the impact it has on their family, and their children can also benefit from additional mental health support.
Other family members are likewise affected. Loved ones often report financial strain, job loss and their own psychological problems as a result of trying to help their mentally ill family member. For this reason, recovery should be a process undertaken by the entire family so that both the individual and their loved ones learn new skills at the same time.
Persons with untreated mental illness may be vulnerable to crime and victimization.
Studies suggest that people with untreated mental illness, especially in conjunction with other risk factors, may be at increased risk of committing violent crimes or even more likely, becoming victims themselves. The risk increases substantially when the individual uses drugs or alcohol or has acute symptoms, less insight into their illness or poor medication adherence. Most often, acts of violence are perpetrated against family members or someone in the individual’s close social circle.
Studies also suggest that many crimes against people with severe psychiatric disorders are not reported. Some of these crimes may be very serious such as physical or sexual assault and in some cases murders have been reported particularly against people suffering from schizophrenia. Women are also more vulnerable. One study in a North Carolina Psychiatric Service found that people with severe psychiatric disorders who weren’t taking medication were three times more vulnerable to be the victim of a violent crime than the general population.
Mentally healthy people live a longer and happier life!
According to a 2012 study in the British Medical Journal people with even a mild mental health problems may have a lower life expectancy. Those with the highest levels of depression or anxiety had a risk of death that increased by 94 percent, most often related to heart disease. People with mental health problems, especially mild symptoms of anxiety or depression, often do not seek help from physicians and mental health professionals. Even if you are able to work, fulfill family responsibilities and otherwise function in daily life, mental health problems can have serious consequences.
Caring for your mind as well as your body means you’ll not only live longer, but better. Just as we have effective treatments for physical illnesses, there are therapies, medications and lifestyle interventions that can ease mental suffering, especially if you get help at the earliest signs of a problem.
What can your workplace do to improve the overall health and well-being of your employees?
- Recognize that improving mental health and reducing the burden of disabilities is everyone’s business. Improving these factors would no doubt improve our physical health, our work, our relationships and help people to achieve their potential. The impact of poor mental and physical health can be devastating for individuals and their families and also has a major impact on the economy.
- Make a commitment to change. Commit to ending discrimination and stigma by making a public commitment from the top of the organization to the bottom. Send a strong message to employees to seek help and expert support from the MOH to deal with issues at work.
- Get some ‘First Aid’ training in mental health. Many organizations have an employee trained in first aid. But mental ill health is the most prevalent cause of illness among people of working age. Appointing someone to become involved and receive a training in mental health, so that they can then train and support others about these issues will make a huge difference. The MOH can provide such training at workplaces and organisations if they are interested too.
For more information, support or advice, please contact:
Mind Care Clinic
VILA CENTRAL HOSPITAL
Mental Health Clinic
NORTHERN PROVINCIAL HOSPITAL
Mental Health Clinic
Mental Health Clinic