Mental Health

Recent news reported of a 22-year-old Turkish man Erdogan Ceren who shot himself dead live on Facebook after accusing his girlfriend of adultery and telling her he could not live without her. 

12 hours before his death, Erdogan had posted a status update “feeling broken” shortly after sharing a picture of himself with his sister and niece. 

Dr. Mrs. Ramani Ratnaweera, Consultant Psychiatrist of Karapitiya Teaching Hospital, in a recent media report claimed that there is an annual increase in the number of people suffering from mental ill health. The startling discovery, however, is that a majority of them are young men and women, with a few elders among them. 

The Mayo Clinic, a leading medical research facility in the United States, defines Mental illness as follows: 

"Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function." 

It goes on to describe the signs and symptoms of mental ill health. 

  • Feeling sad or down 
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate 
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt 
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows 
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities 
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping 
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations 
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress 
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people 
  • Alcohol or drug abuse 
  • Major changes in eating habits 
  • Sex drive changes 
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence 
  • Suicidal thinking 

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains. 

If our younger generation is increasingly subject to the negative emotions or behavior patterns as listed by the Mayo Clinic, whither Sri Lanka, in the 2020s? Will there be a generation left to lead our country coherently, leave alone live their lives normally? 

I remember a time, when Danister, an eighty four year old, retired school teacher could still teach Combined Mathematics to Advanced level students. I recall a time, when the old lived contributory, well balanced and happy lives, in the environs of a loving family. If I walk a few more steps down memory lane, there was a time, when parents bought books for their children to read at home. 

Lily created a library at home with her megre earnings as a Sinhala trained teacher, for her progeny. Her progeny passed it on to their children and now, Lily’s great grandchildren are voracious readers. Simply because a legacy of reading was passed down the generations. In fact, Lily’s grandson and his wife have no television at home – a conscious decision for the betterment of their children. Instead, they frequent the bookshops with their two year old. 

So, what has changed, to contort the minds of our young? Let's explore. 

Technology: The blessing that it is, is taken away with the addictive patterns of both young and old, to the many gadgets that hang from their ears, pockets and hands, Well, mostly the young. Just like some of us to multitasking in daily life chores, some of us and mostly young, do multitasking among several social media platforms. There is a vast difference between a social media enthusiast and a social media addict. According to Dr Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist, audiologist and who has worked in the area of cognitive neuroscience, more social media circles a person is linked to, the more likely that social media will be a source of stress. In fact, Norway has developed an instrument called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. This research shows that multitasking social media can be addictive as drugs, alcohol and chemical substance abuse. (Switch On Your Brain, by Dr. Caroline Leaf) 

Teledrama Responses to Life Events: Where there is a TV, there is a plethora of various dramas which are so dramatic, it is a relief that they are just an art form. The young, exposed to the barrage of ultra dramatic dramas, grow up with the belief that a normal event in life, needs a drama-response. We only need to go through the many sad stories in print or digital media to know the graphic details of these events reported from around the island. Given, most families own a TV or TVs. It does not mean that parental control should be abdicated, however old fashioned, the parental control seems to be, when regulating TV time and appropriate watching, to the young. Well, parents themselves, need a great deal of discipline and restraint in this area, if they are to ensure their children learn the right responses life events from them, and not the idiot box. 

Traumatic Homes: Home is heaven – but it does have some heavy rains from time to time. That’s’ Ok. When children are reared in traumatic homes, whether it is domestic violence, an acrimonious divorce, physical and emotional abuse, the outcome is a damaged person who sees life through dark glasses, all the way to adult life. Added to the list, is the negligent parenting in the super rich category of the society, where children are let loose to their own devices from a very young age. Lets’ face it – parenting is as old as Adam and Eve reared Cain and Abel. The bottom line is, good parenting rears good children in a balanced home. That’s another topic for another day but an essential, to create a wholesome environment to bring up balanced children. 

Heredity: John was an excellent carpenter sought after for the intricate work he crafted by hand in many a teak logs. By and by, his behavior changed and the family looked after John bass, till he died. He suffered from a mental illness. Out of his five sons, three followed in their father’s footsteps. Two became school teachers. There were no traces of inherited mental illness in those sons or the two daughters until one of the daughters developed dementia much later in her life (in her nineties). Is it a fact that mental illness is hereditary? Research is still on-going in this area as there are many, who skip the illness that vexed their elders. 

If Dr. Ratnaweera says that there is an increase of mental illness among the young, what will be the key to scale it down, if not eradicate it? 

In a growing area, neuro scientist the like of Dr. Leaf has proved through long years of medical and scientific research that what we think, has a lot to do with how our minds function and thereby, how our brains get fashioned. Barring heredity, which is yet to prove any substance of acquiring a mental health through a bloodline, all other factors discussed above, create environments where our minds get actively involved in what we say, do, live and become. 

Negative technology, negative learned-behaviours and negative interactions all contribute to a mind that generate such toxicity, is it a wonder that in time and with age, a brilliant mind can we so warped and become ill, just like a joint pain or a fading vision? Isn’t this, what is called mental ill health? 

Solution? In our day and age, we cannot, obviously weed out all negativities that surround us and our children. Those that can be controlled or learned should then be a set of positives that can override a negative. In their research, both Dr Leaf and Dr Normal Doige, MD emphasize the fact that the brain is able to snuff out a negative thought and grow a positive thought. Basically, their work depict, that our thinking has much to do with how well we will do in the future, with our minds. 

If that is the case, and proved to be the case through various research methodologies by world renown neuro scientists, shouldn’t we encourage this positive capability from home and with our young children? I was once told that choices choose us. The thoughts that we choose to dwell on, as a habit, might one day, choose how our mental state will be. 

Let's choose wisely and teach our children to choose well, whether it is technology or various forms of entertainment so that, mental health stays healthy, even when we step into the twilight days of life on earth.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chandi Perera

Chandi switched careers from an airline to banking and enjoyed both. Writing is the passion that outlasted both those careers. Her themes for life are - believing, sharing, caring and learning. She can be contacted at chandiperera851@gmail.com.

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