Mental Health and Mental Illness
Mental health comprises of our psychological, emotional and social well-being. It influences our thoughts, feelings and actions. It plays a part in how we cope with stress, relate to others and make decisions. Like physical health, mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood to old age.
According to the World Health Organisation, to be mentally healthy is to be in a state of well-being, to be functioning, to be productive and contributive and to be able to cope with normal stresses of life.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, mental illnesses are health conditions that can cause changes in thinking, feeling and behaviour which affects a person’s ability to function and carry out daily activities such as work, leisure or relating with loved ones.
Mental Illness: The Myths and Facts
Sadness is something we all experience in response to disappointments and setbacks in life. It usually does not persist for weeks and months nor interfere with one’s daily functioning. On the other hand, clinical depression, characterised by prolonged feelings of sadness, can last for weeks, months or even years, and cause significant disruption to one’s daily functioning.
Depression affects the way you think, feel and act and is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the most common mental health condition in Singapore and affects about 5.8% of the adult population at some point of their life (Institute of Mental Health, 2011).
Symptoms of Clinical Depression can include:
- Depressed mood and sadness
- Loss of interest in activities
- Lack of energy and fatigue
- Inability to concentrate
- Weight loss or gain
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Suicidal Ideation
Depression can be triggered by a combination of various factors, including:
- Biological factors (e.g., brain chemistry, genetics)
- Psychological factors (e.g., negative thinking patterns, psychological inflexibility)
- Social factors (e.g., stressful events, loss of a loved one)
Clinical depression is treatable. Most people with clinical depression will improve when treated with antidepressant medications, counselling or a combination of both.
Antidepressant medications help improve the neurochemicals that affect stress level and mood. People who take antidepressants usually experience an uplift in their mood and some reduction of their depression symptoms, including improved sleep. Antidepressants are generally safe. Mild side-effects can include nausea and sleepiness. Seeking a doctor or psychiatrist’s advice is recommended when one is considering about taking antidepressant medication.
Psychotherapy or counselling is typically recommended for individuals with depression. Counselling provides a safe and validating space for individuals to process their thoughts and feelings and develop understanding about their issues. Counselling helps one to learn and gain practical skills to work with difficult or distressing thoughts and feelings.
Psychotherapies such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy have been found to be effective in treating clinical depression.
Feeling anxious when perceiving danger or uncertainty is part of being human. While fear is how we usually respond to a real or perceived threat by gearing us up to deal with or escape from the threat, anxiety is a state of tension that prepares us for a possible future threat. Although uncomfortable at times, anxiety helps us in some way – to focus on what is important (e.g. examination) and protect us from real dangers (e.g. a speeding car).
A healthy level of anxiety can be helpful and would not impair daily functioning too much. For some, however, prolonged and overwhelming anxiety can leave one feeling helpless and impair daily functioning in school, at work and/or when relating to others.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
In counselling, the counsellor would first explore with you the circumstances and factors around the anxiety condition. It is important to know what happened before the onset of the problem, during and after anxiety episodes, and the times when anxiety is less of a problem. Having a better understanding of the anxiety problem would help you to have a clearer picture of what drives the anxiety to the way it is now.
About Bereavement and Grief
Bereavement is a response to the loss of a close relationship, which may include the experience of reacting, grieving, adapting and processing. Grief is the experience of emotional pain after a loss. Although all of us will experience grief in our lifetime, not everyone will have the same emotional experience of grief. After the loss of someone close some symptoms of grieving are normal, which may include:
- Physical discomfort
- Feelings of guilt related to the loss
- Recurrent thoughts and images of the deceased
- Irritable behaviours
- Difficulties in carrying out daily tasks
Most people will recover from grief with minimal help and support. However, some don not recover even after an extended period of time and may need professional help and more support. Some may experience complicated grief, which is severe and prolonged grief that affects the person’s ability to carry out daily tasks and functions. Complicated grief affects about 2-3% of the general population.
Bereavement and Grief: The Myths and Facts
How Counselling Can Help with Bereavement and Grief
- Support the understanding and processing of
bereavement and grief
- Provide a safe and confidential space to work
through emotional pain
- Explore ways to manage grief
- Facilitate healing and personal growth from the
- Mindfulness practices can empower individuals
to face the realities of life and death squarely and without avoidance as well as accept the
experience of bereavement and grief