Mental wellness versus illness

May is mental health awareness month. It’s my favourite month as the conversations are vibrant and informative. This month provides a unique opportunity to go back to the basics of mental health issues. Throughout the year, conversations get too deep and wide, so this month offers a reset of sorts.

I’m always writing about mental health even on my WhatsApp stories. How millennial of me? Anyways, a friend asked what mental health is. He further asked what is considered mental illness given I explained that there’s no cure. He was confused by my stand against medicating human experiences and hoping for the best.

Mental health is when we are able to handle life’s stresses daily without parts of our lives struggling. For instance being able to play the different roles as a parent, sibling, employee,friend comfortably are a show of being healthy. When someone starts struggling with their day to day life, then it shows there’s an issue.

Mental illness has to do with existing conditions affecting our thoughts and behaviour. For instance, the rise in cost of living in Kenya has caused a lot of people to experience elevated stress. Which results in lack of sleep, more accidents, rising crime rates, and lots of conflicts.

As you can see, both mental health and illness affects how we think, behave, make decisions and solve problems. They are both on a spectrum. Which means there are levels to wellness and illness. For instance a person may be irritable and ready to fight when they are struggling to pay rent over delayed payments. But after paying rent, they revert to being gentle and calm.

Their stability is affected by the environmental and financial needs. Now on to mental illness. There are people who are always thriving during the sunny season yet they are miserable and even suicidal during the colder months. The weather acts as a trigger for mental illness.

Poor mental health affects people differently. There are those who become highly functional while others become paralyzed or sluggish with their day to day life. This varies because of biological, socioeconomic and environmental factors. As such, survival mode looks different on people who are struggling.

It is good to note that struggling does not indicate ongoing mental illness. Remember that example of someone dealing with rent arrears? Their thoughts and behaviour were affected by stress for a period then they got back to their ‘normal’.

Are there warning signs that your mental health is declining?

Yes! Prolonged sadness, sleep issues, eating too little, too much and social withdrawal are signs to look out for. The more obvious ones are self neglect especially hygiene and losing interest in things we previously enjoyed doing.

As we conclude, the reason why I’m against medication for mental illness is that it treats the symptoms, not the root cause. Which ends up keeping someone in a cycle where the medication is affecting them, then working, and finally getting them hooked to it.

Here’s an excerpt from a NYT article that seeks to challenge the medical use of pills to treat mental illness. Read the whole article here.

(WHO published a 300 pages manifesto) It challenges biological psychiatry’s authority, its expertise and insight about the psyche. And it calls for an end to all involuntary or coercive treatment and to the dominance of the pharmaceutical approach that is foremost in mental health care across conditions, including psychosis, bipolar disorder, depression and a host of other diagnoses. Psychiatry’s problematic drugs, the W.H.O. maintains, must no longer be an unquestioned mainstay.

Please leave questions in the comment section. Thank you for reading.

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