Mental Health

Mental health, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is "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".

According to WHO, mental health includes “subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependence, and self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others”. From the perspectives of positive psychology or of holism, mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life and to create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how one defines “mental health”.

Mental health and Mental disorders

Mental health, as defined by the Public Health Agency of Canada, is an individual’s capacity to feel, think, and act in ways to achieve a better quality of life whilst respecting the personal, social, and cultural boundaries. Impairment of any of these is a risk factor for mental disorders, which are components of mental health. Mental disorders are defined as the health conditions that affect and alters cognitive functioning, emotional responses, and behavior associated with distress and/or impaired functioning. The DSM 5 is used as a classification system of various mental disorders.

Mental health are associated with a number of lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, stress, drug abuse, social connections and interactions. Therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, or family physicians can help manage mental illness with treatments such as therapy, counseling or medication.

Early history

In the mid-19th century, William Sweetser was the first to coin the term mental hygiene, which can be seen as the precursor to contemporary approaches to work on promoting positive mental health. Isaac Ray, the fourth president of the American Psychiatric Association and one of its founders, further defined mental hygiene as “the art of preserving the mind against all incidents and influences calculated to deteriorate its qualities, impair its energies, or derange its movements”.

In American history, mentally ill patients were thought to be religiously punished. This response persisted through the 1700s, along with inhumane confinement and stigmatization of such individuals. Dorothea Dix (1802–1887) was an important figure in the development of the “mental hygiene” movement. Dix was a school teacher who endeavored to help people with mental disorders and to expose the sub-standard conditions into which they were put. This became known as the “mental hygiene movement”. Before this movement, it was not uncommon that people affected by mental illness would be considerably neglected, often left alone in deplorable conditions without sufficient clothing. From 1840-1880, she won over the support of the federal government to set up over 30 state psychiatric hospitals; however, they were understaffed, under-resourced, and were accused of violating human rights.

Emil Kraepelin in 1896 developed the taxonomy of mental disorders which has dominated the field for nearly 80 years. Later, the proposed disease model of abnormality was subjected to analysis and considered normality to be relative to the physical, geographical and cultural aspects of the defining group.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Clifford Beers founded “Mental Health America – National Committee for Mental Hygiene”, after publication of his accounts as a patient in several lunatic asylumsA Mind That Found Itself, in 1908 and opened the first outpatient mental health clinic in the United States.

The mental hygiene movement, similar to the social hygiene movement, had at times been associated with advocating eugenics and sterilisation of those considered too mentally deficient to be assisted into productive work and contented family life. In the post-WWII years, references to mental hygiene were gradually replaced by the term ‘mental health’ due to its positive aspect that evolves from the treatment of illness to preventive and promotive areas of healthcare.

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Promoting and improving mental health

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Pharmacotherapy

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Pharmacotherapy is a therapy that uses pharmaceutical drugs. Pharmacotherapy is used in the treatment of mental illness through the use of antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and the use of elements such as lithium. It can only be prescribed by a medical professional trained in the field of Psychiatry.

 

Physical activity

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For some people, physical exercise can improve mental as well as physical health. Playing sports, walking, cycling, or doing any form of physical activity trigger the production of various hormones, sometimes including endorphins, which can elevate a person’s mood.[93]

Studies have shown that in some cases, physical activity can have the same impact as antidepressants when treating depression and anxiety.[94]

Moreover, cessation of physical exercise may have adverse effects on some mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. This could lead to many different negative outcomes such as obesity, skewed body image, lower levels of certain hormones, and many more health risks associated with mental illnesses.[95]

Activity therapies

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Activity therapies also called recreation therapy and occupational therapy, promote healing through active engagement. An example of occupational therapy would be promoting an activity that improves daily life, such as self-care or improving hobbies.[96] Similarly, recreational therapy focuses on movement, such as walking, yoga, or riding a bike.[97]

Each of these therapies have proven to improve mental health and have resulted in healthier, happier individuals. In recent years, for example, coloring has been recognized as an activity that has been proven to significantly lower the levels of depressive symptoms and anxiety in many studies.[98]

Expressive therapies

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Expressive therapies or creative arts therapies are a form of psychotherapy that involves the arts or art-making. These therapies include art therapymusic therapydrama therapydance therapy, and poetry therapy. It has been proven that Music therapy is an effective way of helping people who suffer from a mental health disorder.[99] Dramatherapy is approved by NICE for the treatment of psychosis.[100]

Psychotherapy

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Psychotherapy is the general term for the scientific based treatment of mental health issues based on modern medicine. It includes a number of schools, such as gestalt therapypsychoanalysiscognitive behavioral therapypsychedelic therapytranspersonal psychology/psychotherapy, and dialectical behavioral therapyGroup therapy involves any type of therapy that takes place in a setting involving multiple people. It can include psychodynamic groups, expressive therapy groups, support groups (including the Twelve-step program), problem-solving and psychoeducation groups.