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Improving Mental Health by Preventing Mental Illness

Mental health is a broad concept used to refer to psychological well being. It entails the emotional or cognitive fitness and generally affects how people think or behave. Lack of mental health culminates to mental disorder. According to a report released by World Health Organisation (2005), one out of every four people in United Kingdom encounters at least one mental health complication during their lifetime. Among the developed world, the United States of America has recorded the highest number of mental disorders. It is imperative to note that mental health is paramount if an individual is to behave or act normally. Our daily lives are affected by the state of mental health. Moreover, mental health is also responsible for physical well being. It is through mental health that an individual will be in a position to strike a balance between daily activities in life and endeavour to attain psychological resilience.

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World Health Organisation defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (2005, par. 4).

The middle to low income nations have not received adequate funding to cater for mental health problems whether in human capital or monetary resources. Furthermore, WHO identifies mental illness as the major cause why mental health has not been given due attention since most of the funding is being directed in the treatment of mental health disorders. This explains how serious mental illnesses have contributed to the sustainability of mental health especially in developing and underdeveloped countries.

it is therefore vital for countries to invest more in the treatment of mental illnesses or disorders as part of the primary healthcare. By so doing, mental health will be integrated both in general practice and hospitals, an initiative that will improve mental healthcare services at the community level. This will reduce congestion in specialized psychiatric hospitals (Reid et al., 1999). This paper explores the need of preventing mental illness as an integral part of improving mental health.

To begin with, it has been established that mental illness can attack any other person irrespective of age, pre-existing conditions or physical well being. Statistics obtained from UK reveal that over 250,000 people are diagnosed and admitted into psychiatric health care facilities annually while over 4,000 cases of suicides are reported every year. It does not matter the socio-economic or political background of the victim; the affected persons come from all walks of life. Further statistics show that most of the disability cases in Canada, UK and United States between the ages of 15-44 have been caused by mental illnesses.

There has been controversy on a common definition and understanding on what entails mental health especially in Europe. The main reason why understanding mental health has been a challenge is because of the complexity of the concept. It has been confused with mental illness, although the two terms are completely different from each other.

However, most stakeholders in health care sector tend to agree that when mental illness is not present, it does not necessarily imply that a person is enjoying mental health. Thus, mental health incorporates a positive sense which an individual feels and also considers others to be. This may take place even in the presence of mental illness.

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When mental health is defined as a sense of feeling well and also perceiving things positively, then the idea that mental illness is the converse of mental health is challenged. For instance, it is possible for schizophrenia patient to have a feeling of being supported, relaxed and at the same time hopeful and optimistic on life progress. A person diagnosed with such a condition might as well be enjoying life as usual and portraying a gist of well being.

In most of the definitions contained in World Health Organization and European Union policy documents, mental health has been expounded alongside the derived benefits. Then the big question remains, how do we promote mental health? Do we need to prevent mental illnesses only? A lot can be deliberated at this point bearing in mind that most of the mental illnesses have grossly affected mental health in general. Nonetheless, there is also need to investigate how mental illnesses destabilize mental health and whether by preventing the former, the latter will be improved. Promoting or improving mental health requires quite a number of measures to be put in place, not to mention diagnosing and treating mental illnesses.

Some studies have demonstrated that mental health can be improved by working positively on emotional well being. This can indeed be practical especially if we consider the role played by our emotions in influencing attitude. It is possible for people who are emotionally healthy to be in control of their behavioural patterns as well as emotions in general. They can take care of a myriad of challenges that come their way, develop viable relationships that last besides living productive lives. People who are emotionally healthy are able to spring back to life even after going through tough times. From this backdrop, we may make a valid assumption that when emotional health is taken care of, then definitely mental health will equally be promoted. Nevertheless, mental health and emotional health are closely intertwined in the sense that both of them directly affect our overall psychological well being. In addition, mental illness like anxiety disorder can also disturb emotions and therefore interfere with mental health. Hence, we cannot completely rule out the significant role played by mental illnesses in the process of promoting mental health.

There are a myriad of mental illnesses that may interfere with mental health. For instance, anxiety disorders have been found to potentially impact on mental health. The patient develops extreme fear associated with certain events. In most cases, victims who suffer from anxiety disorders will try to avoid situations that initiate their anxiety (Dickey & Sederer, 2001). Anxiety disorders may surface in different forms. One such example of anxiety disorder is panic disorder. The affected person feels horrible as if something disastrous is about to happen. Others include phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental illnesses under mood disorders include depression and bipolar disorder. These mental disorders are all responsible for deteriorating mental health in many nations of the world. Hence, improving mental health may require serious attention on mental illnesses mentioned above.

Although mental illnesses are largely responsible for poor mental health, it should be noted that absence of mental health problems such as depression and mood disorders do not necessarily mean that mental health is at its best. There are other physical and emotional characteristics that are essentially before one can be said to be mentally healthy. When a person is mentally healthy, he or she has a sense of satisfaction. A mentally healthy person is optimistic in life, can afford to have fun and enjoy living in general. Moreover, self-confidence is a likely characteristic in a person who is enjoying mental health. As can be seen mental health goes beyond just being free from mental disorders. The aforementioned positive characteristics constitute mental health and are all necessary for the well being of a person. When mental health abounds, it is also possible for an individual to cope with certain mental illnesses such as depression and stress. The main reason given behind this is that a mentally healthy person is capable of handling situations that cause depression or stress in a much easier way than an individual who is going through mental health problems.

Even without preventing mental illness as an ingredient in improving mental health, the ability to exercise resilience in difficult situations is an equal promoter of mental health (World Health Organization, 2005). Through resilience, a person can recover and resume the original position. This means that proper application of resilience can act as a real remedy to mental health since the affected person can still bounce back to life by exercising high level flexibility in difficult situations. What is important for a resilient character is the ability to stay focused as well as flexible regardless of the prevailing situation. If this is the case, then prevention of mental illness is not the only way of promoting or improving mental health.

When one is capable of balancing emotions, resilience comes in handy. In fact, a resilient character can identify his or her emotions and using them in the right way to avoid being held hostage with mental disorders such as negative mood.

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Another way through which mental health can be improved is through marinating a healthy physical health. It has been proved beyond any doubt that mental and physical health is closely interrelated and cannot be separated. A healthy body will keep in check both the mental and physical health. Hence, improving the state of physical health will result into both mental and emotional well being. At this point, it is imperative to investigate how physical health can promote mental well being.

Firstly, physical exercise is paramount in strengthening body parts such as the lungs and heart. Additionally, certain chemicals such as endorphins are released from the body during physical exercise. Endorphins are responsible for boosting the mood of individuals who may be already suffering from depressed mood.

Besides performing physical exercises, t is important to secure enough rest as part of improving mental well being. In order for the body to function well, a person needs to have enough sleeping time (Erickson & Erickson, 2008). There are certain sleep disorders that are mentally linked which may not favour mental health. Sufficient and well balanced nutrition is yet another measure that can be taken to improve mental health. Although the entire concept on nutrition is complex, it has been found to be one of the most practical ways of promoting mental health other than just working towards the prevention of mental illness.

By and large, prevention of mental illnesses or disorders is still top in the priority list as part of the powerful measures of improving mental health. It is perhaps vital to explore how mental illnesses can be prevented rather than treated if mental health is to be promoted.

World Health Organisation (2005) suggests that prevention of mental illnesses should be given due attention and more importance attached to it due to the high rate of mental disorder cases reported all over the world. People who are suffering from mental related complications on a global basis are close to 500 million. While such a figure is startling, no much attention has been given towards the prevention of mental related disorders.

The risk of developing physical illnesses is also doubled with the prevalence of mental disorders. As a result, the society is compelled to shoulder the burden of taking care of mentally ill patients. Further, there are a myriad of limitations that exist as far as treatment of mental illness is concerned. In most developing nd underdeveloped countries, treatment options and modalities for mental disorders is still inadequate and unsustainable (World Health Organization, 2005). Hence, it is justified to conclude that prevention remains to be the best way of dealing with the financial and professional burden of mental disorders. When these illnesses are prevented, incidents of depression, anxiety or mood disorders will be reduced significantly, thereby reducing chances of developing mental health problems.

When addressing the need for preventing mental illnesses, it is paramount to bear in mind that there are multiple determinants which depict how prevention of mental illnesses should be undertaken (Ramsay & Gerada, 2001). When prevention is carried out in an effective and more efficient way, it can notably minimise the onset and risks associated with mental illnesses. In implanting preventive measures, there are already well established programs and which also evidence based that can be executed. Through effective prevention, the risk factors can be reduced alongside lowering the probability of attack by mental illnesses. Moreover, prevention has also been found to contribute positively in improving mental health. Besides, prevention assists in lowering the costs associated with the treatment of mental disorders which are also responsible for destabilized mental health. Consequently, prevention becomes more beneficial owing to reduced costs. Sincerely speaking, mental health problems can be managed with much ease if mental illnesses are nipped in the bud through the suggested preventive measures.

In other research studies, it has been found out that there are long term impacts that are also significant when prevention of mental illness is given the right priority as it deserves (Hermann, 2005). However, the process of implementing prevention programs should be directed by some evidence, which implies that prevention as an option of improving mental health should be evidence based in order to yield the best outcome. When scientific evidence is used as a guide in choosing the right preventive measures, it is by no doubt that the expected results will be obtained. Evidence based practice in preventive programs for mental illnesses has been proved to be the most effective way of using the limited resources available especially in underdeveloped and developing countries (Gibson, 1998). An evidence based practice will also make sure that a wide array of research data is used and incorporated in selecting the best preventive measures to use.

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Mental illnesses have also been associated with poverty and the two factors are equally influential in promoting mental health. In addition, mental health may be limited by the nature and state of the community. High levels of poverty significantly contribute to the process of weakening mental health in a variety of ways. One cause of this mental weakening is the lack of hope among hope when situations are deplorable. Extreme poverty leads to other outcomes such as illiteracy due to inability to afford quality education (Davidson, 2003). Low income earning population is also bound to engage itself in other anti-social activities such as rape cases which on the other hand will, demoralize the victim, cause trauma and eventually trigger mental health complications.

On the same note, mental health can demoted in the event of violence, drug and substance abuse and women and children abuse. Therefore, preventing such events from occurring can greatly improve mental health in addition to preventing mental illnesses. Measures to counteract drug and substance abuse should be put in place besides reducing the level of violence.

Enough evidence has also been gathered regarding the prevalence of pre-existing conditions as major contributors in mental health problems (Brown & Sturgeon, 2005). People suffering from chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and asthma may also be affected negatively in terms of their psychological well being and hence their mental health. Such conditions are not easy to manage in cases where unemployment and inadequate income is the norm of the day. Although these chronic conditions affect people physically, the impact is directly translated to the mind. An individual who has been affected by some of these physical conditions is more likely to develop mental health problems and consequently lack mental peace and health. Hence, evidence based prevention of pre-existing and chronic conditions can be an effective and efficient way of improving mental health, not just preventing mental illnesses.

In the case of violence, evidence based research has revealed that violence and violent scenes is a major catalyst in the process of demoting mental health (Bennett, 2001). Depending on the personality of an individual, violence is a negating factor in improving mental health. Furthermore, there are some people who cannot bear to witness violent scenes due to the lasting impact it creates in their mind. Therefore, avoiding violence of whatever nature can also serve as a major promoter of mental health, not just preventing mental disorders.

Ethnographic studies have also shown that environmental factors can play critical role in influencing mental health. A case example can be cited in the developing world where the mushrooming of informal settlements, popularly known as shanties has negatively contributed to public health promotion. Although there has been little emphasis on the impact of public health on mental well being, the two are closely related, in the sense that they cannot be discussed as separate entities. The development of informal settlements is a real threat to public health owing to the fact that there are basic social amenities like toilets, accessible roads, water and electricity in such settings. When such social utilities are not in place, it is not possible to promote mental health within a community. However, if public utilities are duly improved even in informal settings, it is definite that the public mental health will be uplifted, even in the event of high prevalence rate of mental illnesses.

The socio-economic burden of managing mental illnesses is immense especially when it comes to the treatment phase. In most developing and underdeveloped economies, individuals are merely treated as part of managing mental related disorders. Both medication and therapeutic methods are used. In spite of this, the damage caused by poor state of mental health is hard to reverse when treatment is adopted as the option of managing mental illnesses. The worst fact is that the very mental illnesses are almost universal in terms of prevalence; any person can contract a mental disorder any time during life time, calling for the speedy need to act on preventive rather than curative measures. Mental illness continues to be a major disease burden on a global scale, contributing more than 11 percent of all disease incidents in the world. The figure is anticipated to go up to 15 percent by the second decade of the new millennium. There are also other costs associated with mental illnesses. These financial costs arise from the fact the emerging mental disorders such as panic and mood disorders require proper funding towards their treatment. When funding is not adequate or worse still unavailable, it leads to a state of hopelessness among the victims who cannot afford the cost of undergoing therapies or medication. At this point, the emotional health is affected, an effect which is similar to that experienced in mental health. This scenario is common in low income countries (Gamble & Brennan, 2000). Approaching the intriguing mental health and mental illnesses from a public point of view has been perceived to be the best way to promote and improve mental health (Thompson, 2007). Public health is paramount when considering mental health promotion due to the immense role played by public parameters such as employment and poverty index. From a public point of view, mental health can be improved through a variety of ways. One way of achieving this is by promoting healthy practices that affect the general public, preventing disorders and least of all, treatment of the affected groups.

It should also be noted that treatment, though not recommended, may take various forms such as rehabilitation. The latter has been found to work well if the direct use of drugs has proved to be fruitless. A mentally healthy person may not necessarily be free from mental disorders or other physical illnesses (Cross, 2006).

When discussing the concept of mental health it is vital to underscore the fact that drug and substance abuse has a major influence. Individuals who abuse drugs such as bhang and substances like alcohol often find themselves in a different state of mind; they lack control of themselves and also react in an unusual way. The effect of drug and substance abuse on the natural healthy mind cannot be overstated. Research based study on how mental health can be demoted by drug and substance abuse demonstrates that if the abuser withdraws from the act, it is one way of improving mental health (Bryant et al., 1999). This is another clear indication on how mental health can be improved not just by preventing mental illnesses, but also by abstaining from drug and substance abuse.

Furthermore, drug abusers are more likely to engage in crime and other repugnant social acts that defeats social mental health. On the same note, drug and substance abuse is one of the main causes of chronic conditions which later transform into psychological or mental problems and eventually negatively impacting on mental health. There is a rapid research being carried out in the brain in order to gain a clear understanding of the relationship between mental health and mental illness. This implies that although the general assumption perceives prevention of mental illnesses as the only way to go about improving mental health, it may not be true. Mental health is a broad concept that circumnavigates around the physical and emotional well being of a person. The needs of patients suffering from mental health problems have for a long time been addressed by either treating or preventing mental illnesses. As noted earlier, mental health services are not adequate, possibly because of the confusion generated between the two concepts.

In most healthcare establishments, mental health is of little concern compared to countless cases of mental disorders that are not only diagnosed on a daily basis, but also treated using medication and therapies. To solidify the argument that prevention of mental health is just a small fraction of what need to be done in improving mental health, there are several consumer organisations and counselling groups that have been founded to address the growing need for mental health promotion (Beardslee, Solantaus & van Doesum, 2005). These groups sometimes perform overlapping roles. For example, they tackle the stigma and discrimination caused by mental disorders and illnesses. When stigma prevails in a community, the affected patients are further worn out mentally, jeopardizing their mental health. Hence, instead of focusing on preventing mental health occurrence, consumer organisations are concentrating on primary outcome of these mental illnesses that emanates from the community itself. This approach offers yet another alternative on how mental health can be improved, disregarding the conventional preventive measures that have been used for long.

On the overall, the process of improving mental health requires a thorough conceptual framework based on the society, avoiding stigma and discrimination as well as empowering the population economically. These frameworks are based on the understanding that improving mental health is far much beyond taking preventive measures in managing mental illnesses.

When embarking on these frameworks, the expected benefits to the target persons is identified. For example, the social and economic well being of people can be brought about by community empowerment through education, creation of employment and prevalence of security.

Alternatively, there is a growing desire to minimize the growing inequities in health. The attempt to balance accessibility to healthcare facilities and services being offered with particular reference to developing economies is of great import. When fairness is exercised in the distribution of healthcare services to the community, it will reduce the high and growing prevalence rate of those being affected by mental illnesses (Anderson, Biglan & Holder, 2005). Although it is only a small fraction of patients suffering from mental illnesses turn out to be affected in terms of their mental health, equity in healthcare cannot be ignored; it ensures that the mental related illnesses do not impact negatively on the emotional and mental well being of patients.

In recap, prevention of mental illnesses is one of the steps that can be taken to improve mental health. However, it is not the only available option especially in regard to the broad concept of mental health. Mental illnesses such as depression and panic disorders can be prevented as early as possible to avoid the huge financial burden of going through treatment. Usually, the community should be made to participate in the improvement of mental health since factors such as unemployment, drug and substance abuse as well as violence can all be put under check and balance with proper involvement of the community. Studies on ethnography indicate that environmental factors are critical in influencing mental health. A case example can be cited in the developing world where informal settlements, popularly known as shanties have negatively contributed to public health promotion as well as improvement. Although there has been little emphasis on the impact of public health on mental well being, the two are closely related, in the sense that they cannot be discussed as separate entities. The development of informal settlements is a real threat to public health owing to the fact that there are basic social amenities like toilets, accessible roads, water and electricity in such settings. When such social utilities are not in place, it is not possible to promote mental health within a community.

A resilient person can recover and resume the normal activities as usual. This implies that effective application of resilience is a real remedy to mental health since the affected person can still bounce back to life by exercising high level flexibility in challenging situations


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