‘Mental health and mental illness are different terminologies’: Prof. Dr. Saroj Prasad Ojha

Mental health is as much important as physical and social health which includes our emotional, psychological, and social well. ‘Mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ are increasingly being used as if they mean the same thing, but they do not. Everyone has mental health, just like everyone has health. As the World Health Organization famously says, “There is no health without mental health.” In the course of a lifetime, not all people will experience a mental illness, but everyone will struggle or have a challenge with their mental well-being that is to say  their mental health just like we all have challenges with our physical well-being from time to time. On the other hand, mental illness is an illness the affects that way people think, feel, behave, or interact with others. There are many different mental illnesses, and they have different symptoms that impact peoples’ lives in different ways. And, mental illness may cause a variety of emotional and physical problems including depression which a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. According to the World Health Organization, close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. The global pandemic of COVID-19 has even more vigorous impact on mental health and the numbers of people attempting suicide are escalating day by day.

Relating to the various aspects of mental health and depression, Pariwartan khabar has talked with the Head of Department, Psychiatry and Mental Health, TUTH. Prof. Dr. Saroj Prasad Ojha.

Here are the excerpts of the interview:

How did you enter to work in the sector of mental health?
After the completion of my MBBS during our time, we could go for post-graduation program. Then, I was selected for Psychiatry from the entrance exam and decided to pursue my study accordingly. Now I am running in my 20 years career in this sector and I am very happy selecting this subject and confident to work in the sector of mental health.

How do you define mental health being working in this field? Why it is important?
After completion of my MBBS, I worked for 3 years in teaching hospital. During that time also, I had the same thinking regarding mental health as of the public have now considering it as strong type of illness which will not recovered soon and all that. Now, I am happy to share from my experience that health is not only about physical wellness, but mental health and social health is important as well. Even the WHO has defined health as being healthy physically, mentally and socially.

Describing mental health now, I would like to say that mental health and mental illness is different from each other. Being mentally healthy means to be able to execute day to day activities struggling with all those hinderances overcoming the tensions that comes throughout the life. However, many people get frustrated due to tensions effecting in their sleeping habit. Now COVID-19 pandemic has badly affected the psychology of people. Thus, being mentally healthy is to put forward the daily activities winning against all the stress and tensions in positive way.

What are the symptoms of being mentally disabled?
Mental health and mental illness are two different terminologies. Being mentally disabled encompasses various several symptoms. People may have sleeping disorder, hitting their mind with unusual feelings and being depressed. On the other hand, the WHO has classified mental illness from 0 to 99 which includes different kinds symptoms. These are classified as per the symptoms so far. Such as those who have sleeping disorder are affected with insomnia, anxiety disorder, depression accordingly and these symptoms have certain duration and must be fulfilled. But, sometimes experiencing these sorts of symptoms does not mean that one is mentally disabled. We should understand such condition as the psychological impact only. In this regard, let’s talk about depression which is comparatively less strong mental illness. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, loss of interest in daily activities, appetite or weight changes, sleep changes are some symptoms of depression.

Though the physical treatment results normal but if these symptoms occur consistently more than two weeks, then one may have depression. It should be noted that depression is diagnosed by doctors along with its level or grade from mild to severe according to the symptoms occurred. People who are negatively reporting depression in our society is also creating fear among the public.

Which group of people are more vulnerable to depression? What are the causes for it?
Depression has now becoming the biggest problem in the world. WHO has already shared 5/6 years back that depression will bring disability among people in society. There is no scientific evidence behind the exact causes of depression. However, depression occurs due to biological cause or heredity, psychological cause such as torture, tensions, economic crisis, introverted or self-centered nature and another is unemployment which is the biggest social cause. Study has shared that due to the impact of COVID-19 in USA, 44 million people have become unemployed. Even the Nepali nationals across the world have lost their job. So, unemployment which brings financial crisis is the major social cause for depression. Similarly, family disputes, excessive consumption of alcohol are other causes. Comparatively, females are more likely to suffer from depression than males as both have different psychology. All these factors should be addressed so far.

How do you analyze the impact of COVID-19 on mental health?
The Washington Post of USA published on the 1st week of May among other news channels have shared that USA will face mental health crisis soon. General secretary of United Nations has shared that everyone should be careful about the promotion of mental health applying different strategy to combat the crisis. Thus, most of the people are afraid of COVID-19 pandemic while many of them are kept in quarantine also called social isolation. In this way, most importantly financial crisis and loss of death including different psychological and social causes is affecting mental health. Anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholic disorder will be most likely to increase in future.

What is the treatment procedure for depression?
As I have already shared that depression occurs such symptoms that directly creates problem to conduct daily activities. In such condition, I strongly suggest them to have psychological counselling. Then, examining every aspects of the patient, doctors will recommend with medicine. Though, the consumption of medicine is not lifelong, however effective medicine can be applied that helps to overcome the problem and to fulfill the social responsibility. As depression occurs in different ways in different people, it can be cured without consuming medicine in some cases while some may take 2 to 6 months or a year. Along with medicine, because psycho-social factor also causes problems, counselling plays vital role on managing stress, converting negative thoughts into positive and bringing daily life to normal. It is better to use both medical treatment and counselling simultaneously. People must come out from their negative thoughts regarding depression and apply psycho-social counselling to get rid of all the complications so far.

What is your key message?
We all are suffering from COVID-19 pandemic nowadays. So, during this epidemic, we must have to learn to survive fighting against the deadly virus. In order to combat the outbreak, we must strictly follow some precautions like wearing masks, keeping social distance and washing hands. So far, to overcome from depression and anxiety positive thoughts and self-esteem should be developed. For this, healthy lifestyle should be followed which includes good sleeping habit, physical exercise, yoga or meditation, keeping oneself busy, consuming balanced diet and avoiding negative news and drug habits. We will be able to overcome depression and anxiety by developing positive thoughts and self-esteem and this is our accountability and responsibility so far.

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