Staying in tip-top health

FROM 1980 to 2013, the International Journal of Epidemiology carried out 174 surveys across 63 countries to determine the global prevalence of common mental disorders. The systematic review and meta-analysis revealed that one in every five respondents (17.6%) met the criteria for a common mental disorder, and 29.2% of the respondents experienced a common mental disorder in their lifetime.

The same study suggests that women have higher rates of mood (7.3%:4.0%) and anxiety (8.7%:4.3%) disorders, while male respondents have higher rates of substance use disorders (2.0%:7:5%).

In Malaysia, the National Health and Morbidity Survey conducted in 2011 among adults aged 16 to 60 years suggests that 1.7% (0.3 million) respondents experience generalised anxiety disorders, 1.8% (0.3 million) suffer from depression currently, 1.7% (0.3 million) have suicidal ideations, and 1.1% (0.2 million) are reported to have attempted suicide in the past. This equates to 12% of Malaysian respondents having suffered from mental health problems.

These glaring statistics beg the question: What is mental health and how important is it in the overall aspect of a human being?

Mental health is an integral part of health. There is no health without mental health. Health must be viewed in a very holistic manner, comprising a complete physical, mental, and social well-being of a person.

Mental health is a state of well-being where the individual understands his or her own abilities, is able to cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is capable of making a contribution to his or her community. Anything that is amiss from these four could be a sign of mental health issue and needs to be addressed immediately.

As with physical health, good mental health is a lifelong process. People constantly need to learn and unlearn things in life, much like the ability to feel and express a gamut of emotions, both good and bad. Good mental health is likewise a journey in coping and managing changes and uncertainties in life. We do not live in a status quo. Good mental health simply allows you to react positively to shifts that occur and will occur in the future.

Counselling, a collaborative treatment based on the relationship between an individual and a counsellor, provides a way for individuals to feel at their best. People who suffer from mental health problems should seek counselling as it offers a supportive environment that allows an individual to talk openly without being judged. Counselling is the safe haven that lets you identify “road blocks” and change thoughts and behaviour patterns to help you achieve your optimal self.

Tell-tale signs that a person needs counselling include:

(1) if he or she feels an overwhelming sadness and helplessness over a prolonged period of time, and

(2) the feeling that problems don’t seem to get better despite efforts and help from family and friends.

People need counselling too when they find it difficult to concentrate on work assignments or carry out everyday activities, worry excessively or engage in substance abuse.

Stress, while it is not considered a mental health problem, may be associated with anxiety or depression if it exists long term.

Life admittedly can be tough but there certainly are ways to maintain mental wellness. Positivity, mindfulness, meditation, a healthy diet, sufficient sleep and exercise top the list. Social activities that help connect yourself with others, reading self-help books and talking to professionals such as a therapist, when needed, will keep your mental health in tip-top shape.


Programme Director

School of Psychology, Taylor’s University

Letters , Health , Mental Disorders