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Recognizing Mental Illness as a Valid Health Issue

โ€ฆ๐’‘๐’†๐’๐’‘๐’๐’† ๐’”๐’–๐’‡๐’‡๐’†๐’“๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’‡๐’“๐’๐’Ž ๐’‚๐’๐’™๐’Š๐’†๐’•๐’š ๐’…๐’Š๐’”๐’๐’“๐’…๐’†๐’“ ๐’“๐’†๐’Ž๐’‚๐’Š๐’๐’” ๐’‰๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‰๐’†๐’”๐’• ๐’Š๐’ ๐’ƒ๐’๐’•๐’‰ 2021 ๐’‚๐’๐’… 2022.

Tenzin Lhaden

The surging incidence of mental health problems, notably depression, within the country, is a matter of great concern. Regrettably, a significant number of people opt to suffer in silence due to the social stigma attached to mental illness, or others’ lack of understanding of mental health as a genuine illness. It is imperative to address this stigma and create an empathetic and supportive environment for individuals grappling with mental health issues and to encourage open and honest conversations around mental health and promote access to quality mental health services to help those in need.

In 2017, there were 4,309 cases related to mental and behavior disorders; this increased to 6,894 cases in 2020. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues in Bhutan, as people have been isolated from their families and communities and have experienced financial and emotional stress.

โ€œExacerbated by unemployment, financial constraints, gender-based violence and other forms of violence, and broken family issues, most people are going through depression,โ€ said an official, National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC).

In 2021, total number of cases seen during the second lockdown was 340. Majority (175) of cases was new patients and the rest were old case (165) who needed follow up and refill of their prescription.

While in 2022, a total of 3056 new cases visited psychiatric Outpatient Department (OPD) for psychiatric consultation. 1/3 of these new cases in 2022 were patients with anxiety disorders (total of 915) with 626 female and 289 male. People suffering from anxiety disorder remains highest in both 2021 and 2022.

According to Dr. Damber K. Nirola, the increase of new cases from 2021 to 2022 can be due to the pandemic since it came with a lot of economic and financial issues where many people also lost their jobs and source of livelihood.

He said, โ€œThe causes of mental illness are complex and multifaceted, and can be broadly categorized into three main factors: biological, psychological, and social. Biological factors refer to genetic influences that can contribute to mental health conditions. For example, certain genetic mutations or imbalances in brain chemistry can increase the risk of developing conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Psychological factors involve an individual’s personal experiences and reactions to situations. These can include traumatic life events, such as abuse or the death of a loved one, as well as ongoing stressors like relationship problems or financial difficulties. These experiences can contribute to conditions such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Social factors include the broader societal and environmental influences on mental health. These can range from economic conditions and access to healthcare, to cultural and societal attitudes towards mental illness.โ€

The doctor emphasized that mental health conditions typically arise from a complex interplay of multiple factors rather than any single cause. Hence, comprehending the interrelationships between biological, psychological, and social factors is critical in informing effective treatments and interventions for individuals dealing with mental health issues. By recognizing the multifaceted nature of mental health, healthcare professionals can develop comprehensive care plans that address the root causes of the issue rather than merely treating the symptoms. This approach can lead to better outcomes for those struggling with mental health conditions, ultimately promoting their mental and emotional well-being.

Dr. Damber K. Nirola further emphasized the significance of mental health conditions, highlighting that individuals can exhibit a broad spectrum of symptoms, and the manner in which these symptoms manifest can differ from person to person. It is vital to recognize that mental health issues are not a one-size-fits-all condition. For instance, someone with an anxiety disorder may experience symptoms such as restlessness, worry, and irritability, while another person with depression may experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. Therefore, healthcare providers must take a personalized approach when treating mental health issues, tailoring the treatment plan to meet the specific needs of the individual. By doing so, we can ensure that individuals receive the support they require to manage their mental health effectively, improving their overall quality of life.

โ€œSimilarly, individuals may express their symptoms in different ways. Some people may have panic attacks, which can cause intense feelings of fear and physical sensations such as heart palpitations and shortness of breath. Others may experience psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions, which can cause them to lose touch with reality and behave in ways that seem strange or irrational to others,โ€ said the Doctor.

The doctor also emphasized that it is crucial to remember that these symptoms are not a choice or a reflection of a person’s character. Instead, they are the result of underlying biological, psychological, or social factors that contribute to mental illness. Stigmatizing those struggling with mental health issues only serves to exacerbate the problem and prevents them from seeking the help they need. With the right support and treatment, individuals with mental health conditions can manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives. It is important to promote a more compassionate and understanding approach to mental health, one that recognizes the inherent dignity and worth of each person regardless of their mental health status. By doing so, we can foster a more inclusive society that supports and uplifts those dealing with mental health issues, improving their overall well-being.

The treatment approach for mental health conditions can vary depending on the individual and the specific symptoms they are experiencing. In general, treatment may involve a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
The doctor explained that when it comes to psychological symptoms, counseling therapy can be an especially effective approach. This type of therapy involves engaging in conversations with a trained professional about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a safe and supportive environment. Counseling offers a space for individuals to explore their behaviors and thought patterns, gain valuable insight into the root causes of their mental health issues, and develop coping strategies to manage their symptoms. Additionally, counseling can help individuals build resilience and develop the skills necessary to navigate life’s challenges. By providing a non-judgmental and supportive space for individuals to process their emotions, counseling can be a powerful tool in promoting mental and emotional well-being.

For instance, if someone has a phobia of cockroaches, a therapist might use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them overcome their fear. This might involve gradually exposing the person to the object of their fear in a safe and controlled environment, while teaching them techniques to manage their anxiety and change their negative thought patterns.

With the right care and support, many individuals with mental health conditions can recover and lead fulfilling lives.
For mild mental health conditions, such as mild anxiety or depression, treatment may involve a less intensive approach than for more severe conditions. In these cases, healthcare professionals may recommend that individuals attend check-ups every month or two months to monitor their progress and adjust their treatment plan if necessary. In addition, individuals may be advised to take medication or engage in therapy for a period of at least six months. This allows enough time for the treatment to take effect and for the individual to develop coping skills and strategies to manage their symptoms.

It’s important to note that even mild mental health conditions can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life, and seeking treatment early can help prevent symptoms from worsening. By following a treatment plan and regularly checking in with a healthcare professional, individuals can make significant progress towards managing their symptoms and improving their mental health.

As emphasized by Dr. Damber, assuming an active role in managing one’s mental illness is of paramount importance. This may involve attending scheduled check-ups with healthcare professionals, adhering to a tailored treatment plan, following prescribed medications, seeking therapy or other forms of support, and making lifestyle adjustments that foster improved mental health. By demonstrating a genuine concern for one’s own mental well-being and taking initiative in managing their condition, individuals can experience an enhanced quality of life and lower the likelihood of symptom recurrence.

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