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Jesuit Father Myron J. Pereira, based in Mumbai, has spent more than five decades as an academic, journalist, editor and writer of fiction. He contributes regularly to UCA News on religious and socio-cultural topics.
Staying healthy in a schizoid world
Why maintaining mental health is so necessary in today’s society
October 10, 2022 10:54 AM GMT

October 10, 2022 12:12 PM GMT

The ancient Romans put it well: “A healthy mind in a healthy body” (mens sana in corpore sano). This adage accurately sums up the traditional system of education.

In this context, academic studies were blended with sports and athletics, as well as with public expression in the arts, like elocution, music, painting and theater. Thus, the human person grew intellectually, physically and emotionally.

But modern education, increasingly competitive and focused largely on financial gain, tends to forget this. One reason why the decline of mental health, not just in adults but in adolescents as well, has become one of society’s gravest concerns today.

Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day, a day chosen to increase awareness and education about health issues.

What is mental health?

What we call “mental health” is perhaps better described as “emotional well-being,” that is, it’s not so much a deterioration of the brain as an atrophy of the heart, of feelings, of relationships.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes mental health as the state of someone who “functions at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment.”

Or to put it more descriptively, mental health is "subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence and self-actualization of one's intellectual and emotional potential, among others."

Mental health issues arise because of a variety of reasons: stress, depression, loneliness, anxiety, deaths in the family, mood disorders and various other mental illnesses. Feelings of deprivation, of financial loss, major health issues, moving to a new place, retirement and several such stressful events can leave a person vulnerable to depression.

Many of these are lifestyle ailments, that is, they are caused by the irreversible change of social behavior patterns of modern living.

Modern life, whatever benefits it has brought some of us, is also fast-paced, hectic and stressful. It values success, especially financial success, as its main goal.

It is also more individualistic and disdains relationships with family and kin, in spite of knowing that it is our relatives who provide the emotional buffer in life’s various tragedies.

No wonder the growing incidence of mental illness, or emotional breakdown, expresses itself in depression and violent paranoia.

Therapy, counseling, or medication can help overcome these illnesses, but because of the social stigma associated with mental breakdown — “becoming mad” — many patients decline to visit a doctor. With no professional help, such patients often move towards taking extreme steps, like suicide.         

Mental health in India

According to a WHO report, India is the most depressed country in the world.

The report says that between 1990 and 2017, one in seven people in India suffered mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and other severe conditions. India also has a very low number of health professionals to deal with mental health issues. These challenges require the government’s as well as citizens' immediate attention.

As per WHO estimates, nearly 50 million Indians suffer from depression. “That is, an increase of more than 18 percent in cases of depression as compared with the last decade, and account for over two-thirds of global suicides in low- and middle-income countries like ours," says Mahesh Jayaraman, co-founder of the health platform Sepalika.com.

While there are numerous ways to deal with depression, most often people resort to chemical antidepressants and, in some severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy.

Alternative strategies

Are there safer, alternative strategies to cope with a mental disability?

This World Mental Health Day, here are four scientific ways to deal with depression.

Eat a balanced diet, rich in high-quality fats: A balanced and nutritious diet helps promote good health and works effectively on the body to fight depression. While good fats are known to enhance mental calm, trans fats and saturated fats are bad and can adversely affect brain health.

Conduct thyroid function tests: Abnormal thyroid hormone levels can result in mood swings, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, insomnia and depression. If you are detected with hypothyroidism and depression, then dietary supplements that support thyroid function can come to your rescue. As thyroid function improves, depression goes away naturally.

Consume adequate B vitamins: Often, low levels of vitamin B12 and other B vitamins can trigger depression. These vitamins play an important role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions.

Practice yoga and meditation: Yoga and meditation are among the most effective ways to fight depression and its symptoms. Yoga and meditation have demonstrated therapeutic effectiveness on many patients dealing with depression, mental and emotional problems.

The famous psychologist Carl G. Jung in his classic study Modern Man in Search of a Soul observed that the loss of religion in modern life was responsible for many of its ailments. He declared that finding a “spiritual vision for oneself” was the first step to recovery.

Religion, as we know, is a two-edged sword. Many societies across the globe promote a fundamentalist kind of religion, replete with codes and rituals, and suspicious of everything modern.

What Jung implied was rather “spirituality,” an orientation of the human spirit to all that is true, good and beautiful, particularly a reverence for life in all its forms in nature.

Such spiritual persons then have discovered that the key to healthy living lies in relationships — with others, with oneself, and with that Divine Power beyond us — and that our total well-being consists in bringing these relationships to fruition.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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