Mental Health : An Introduction

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Mental disorders are malfunctions of the brain. These malfunctions create changes in thought, emotions and perceptions in the patient. Mental disorders are mainly caused by the imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Having a mental disorder does not suggest that the patient is ‘crazy’ or ‘a lunatic’. One of four families will have at least one member suffering from a mental disorder. Four hundred and fifty million out of the world population are currently affected by from mental disorders where as one hundred and fifty million are suffering from depression.

It has been reported that one million suicides take place in the world per year. According to Parsons (1951) a person who is suffering from a mental disorder, could be exempted from certain social responsibilities and he/ she has a right to expect help and care from others. The patient is obliged to seek and cooperate with the treatments with the desire to recover. Causes for developing a mental disorder are three fold. They are predisposing, precipitating and perpetuating factors.

Predisposing factors such as genes, environment, trauma at birth and psycho social factors in development (specially in childhood) make a person more vulnerable to a mental disorder. Precipitating factors brings the illness out at a particular time. Physical diseases, drugs, psychological stress (child birth, exam stress for example), social changes such as moving houses, retirement, divorce, migration are such precipitating factors. The perpetuating factors maintain the mental illness, preventing the person from recovery.

Mental disorders create large impact on an individual. Distress, disability, prone to physical disorders, high suicidal risk, inability to perform daily activities, rejection from family and community, stigma and discrimination are such impacts on the individual. However, impacts of mental disorders are not only on individual but on family and community as well. Families that have a mentally retarded patient, are usually plunged into hopelessness and helplessness. Social stigma and discrimination create things worse for such families.

The community is also affected by mental health issues. The community has to bare a large economic cost for treatments. A vicious circle exists between mental disorders and poverty. There is a noticeable increase in mental disorders in Sri Lanka. The population structure is one reason for this increase. The composition of age in Sri Lanka is polarized into the categories of ‘adults’ and ‘ youths’. Both these groups are high risk parties who are heavily prone for mental disorders.

War has also been a long prevailing reason for this increase in mental disorders in Sri Lanka. Migration (due to war, development projects), alcohol and drug abuse, stress (examination, education, domestic, work place) are also reasons behind this tendency. There are many issues related to mental disorders in Sri Lankan context. Delay in recognition is the major issue. Delay in seeking effective treatment is another problem. Social stigma, discrimination, myths and misconceptions in relation to mental disorders create a worse situation for the patients.

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