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Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realises 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.

Mental health promotion is an umbrella term that covers a variety of strategies, all aimed at having a positive effect on mental health. One in four patients visiting a health service has at least one mental, neurological or behavioural disorder but most of these disorders are neither diagnosed nor treated. Mental illnesses affect and are affected by chronic conditions such as cancer, heart, and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and HIV or AIDS. Untreated, they bring about unhealthy behaviour, non-compliance with prescribed medical regimens, diminished immune functioning, and poor prognosis. Mental illness and mental disorder are not terms easy to define. Misunderstandings lead to incorrect use of the terminology which helps reinforce myths and even prevent people from getting help when they really need it .450 million people worldwide are affected by mental, neurological, or behavioural problems at any time. About 8,73,000 people die by suicide every year. Mental illness can be defined as a mental disorder characterized by disturbances in a person's thoughts, emotions, or behaviour.

Myths and facts of mental illness: 

Myth: People with mental illness are psycho, dangerous, and have to be locked away.
Fact: Many individuals with a mental illness can have difficulty coping with day-to-day living.When in great distress, such individuals are at greater risk of harming themselves than others.

Myth: People with a mental illness never get better.
Fact: With the right kind of help, many people with a mental illness do recover and go on to lead healthy, productive, and satisfying lives.

Myth: Only crazy people see shrinks.
Fact: People of all ages and walks of life seek help from a variety of mental health professionals including psychiatrists. Seeking a lot and accepting help are signs of coping and preventing situations from getting worse.

Causes of mental illness:

People have tried to understand the causes of mental illness for thousands of years. Many mental health professionals today favour a combination of perspectives, acknowledging that both biology and a person's environment play important roles in mental illness. This approach recognizes that people are not only products of the genes inherited from their parents, but produces of the families and social worlds into which they are born.

  • Biological perspective:  Psychiatry has increasingly emphasized a biological basis for the causes of mental illness. Studies suggest a genetic influence in some mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, although the evidence is not conclusive.

  • Psychodynamic perspective: The psychodynamic perspective views mental illness as caused by unconscious and unresolved conflicts in the mind. As stated by Freud, these conflicts arise in early childhood and may cause mental illness by impeding the balanced development of the three systems that constitute the human psyche: the I'd which comprises innate sexual and aggressive drives; the ego the conscious portion of the mind that mediates between the unconscious and reality; and the superego which controls the primitive impulses of the I'd and represents moral ideals. In this view, generalized anxiety disorder stems from a signal of unconscious danger whose source can only be identified only through a thorough analysis of the person's personality and life experiences.

Humanistic and existential perspectives: 

Both the humanistic and existential perspectives view abnormal behaviour as resulting from a person's failure to find meaning in life and fulfill his or her potential. The humanistic school of psychology, as represented in the work of American psychologist Carl Rogers views mental health and personal growth as the natural conditions of human life. In  Roger's view, every person possesses a drive toward self-actualization, the fulfillment of one's greatest potential. Mental illness develops when circumstances in a person's environment block this drive. The existential perspective sees emotional disturbances as the result of a person's failure to act authentically.

Behavioural perspective: 

The pioneers of behaviorism were American psychologists John B.Watson and B.F.Skinner maintained that psychology should confine itself to the study of observable behaviour, rather than explore a person's unconscious feelings. The behavioural perspective explains mental illness as well as human behaviour, as a learned response to stimuli.

  • Cognitive perspective: The cognitive perspective holds that mental illness results from problems in cognition, that is problems in how a person reasons, perceives events, and solves problems. American psychologist Aaron Beck proposed that some mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders result from a way of thinking learned in childhood and that is not constant with reality.

  • Socio-cultural perspective: The socio-cultural perspective regards mental illness as a result of social, economic, and cultural factors. Evidence for this view comes from research that has demonstrated an increased risk of mental illness among people living in poverty. Social scientists emphasize the link between social ills and mental illness is correlational rather than causal. For example, societies undergoing rapid social change often have high rates of suicide.

Why does children's mental health matter?

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Raising healthy, happy children is challenging in our fast-paced, technology-driven world. Everyday uncertainties like inadequate access to basic needs or school safety are just two examples of real problems faced by today’s youth. Oftentimes ill-equipped young people find it difficult to express their emotions. This is in part due to normal development, but also because of a lack of positive adult role modeling.

In fact, Mental Health America (MHA) (2017) cites several startling statistics. Among them are:

  • 2.2 million children have lived with a parent or guardian who has died
  • 5 million feel their family can’t cover the basics like food and housing
  • 7.7 million have lived with someone who had a drug or alcohol use problem
  • 6.1 million have lived with someone who had a mental health illness or was suicidal
  • 2.9 million experienced discrimination due to their race or ethnicity
  • 5.2 million saw or heard physical abuse between adults in their home
  • 6.2 million have been victims of violence or saw it in their neighborhood
  • 1.2 million aged 8-18 are caregivers
  • 36% experienced bullying behavior

According to MHA the children aged 11-17 who took their screening, reported that they often,

  • feel irritable or angry (55%)
  • worry a lot (69%)
  • feel sad or unhappy (68%)
  • do not show their feelings (45%).
  • Neuropsychiatric conditions or disorders are a broad term used to describe diseases that negatively affect one’s ability to learn, work, and emotionally cope. These diseases have a neurological and psychological base.

Some examples are:

  • Addictions
  • Eating disorders
  • Degenerative diseases
  • Mood disorders
  • Neurotic disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Sleep disorders

The common link is that these types of disorders impact brain function, emotion, and mood.

Social aspect:

School is the first avenue of socialising for a child. Up till then, parents and immediate family members are the only people the child has human interactions with. And familiarity is a breeding ground of stagnancy. In schools, children are exposed not only to new ideas but also to same-aged compatriots. This instills sociable practices such as empathy, friendship, participation, assistance which turn out to be important in their adulthood.

Life is also about learning, apart from living. While we can learn to a certain extent from our parents, they tend to be unilateral. At school, children are exposed to various sources from whom they can imbibe immense knowledge, instrumental for their development. Hence school is necessary for children to inculcate the workings of life”

Education forms the foundation of any society. It is responsible for the economic, social, and political growth and development of society in general. The thread of the growth of society depends upon the quality of education that is being imparted. So schools play an important role in moulding a nation’s future by facilitating all-around development of its future citizens.

Role of parents and professionals in promoting Mental Health:

 Source: Daniela Dimitrova from Pixabay 

Be a good role model:

Walk the walk and don’t just tell your child what you want them to do. Show them and let them learn by imitation. Humans are programmed to copy others’ actions and by doing so they tend to understand the world around them. Children, in particular, watch everything their parents do very carefully. So, be the person you want your child to be—respect your child, show them positive behaviour and attitude, have empathy towards your child’s emotion—and your child will follow suit.

Show your love through action:

There is no such thing as loving your child too much. Only what you choose to do (or give) in the name of love, like material indulgence, leniency, low expectation, and over-protection. When these things are given in place of real love, that’s when you’ll have a spoiled child.

Loving your child can be as simple as giving them hugs, spending time with them, and listening to their issues seriously every day. Showing these acts of love can trigger the release of feel-good hormones such as oxytocin. These neurochemicals can bring us a deep sense of calm, emotional warmth, and contentment. Through these the child will develop resilience and not to mention a closer relationship with you.

Practice kind and firm positive parenting:

Babies are born with around 100 billion brain cells (neurons) with few connections. These connections create our thoughts, drive our actions, shape our personalities, and determine who we are. They are created, strengthened, and “sculpted” through experiences across our lives. Giving your children positive experiences will give them the ability to experience positive emotions and experiences within themselves and hence offer them to others.

Singing a silly song, telling a joke, reading stories, and doing a tickle marathon or pillow fighting will just help you to connect with your child. Help them learn how to solve a problem and make a decision with a positive attitude.

Be a safe haven for your child:

Let your child know that you’ll always be there for them by being responsive to the child’s signals and sensitive to their needs. Support and accept your child as an individual. Be a warm haven for your child to explore. Children raised by consistently responsive parents tend to have better emotional regulation development, social skills development, and mental health outcomes

Talk with your child and help their brains integrate:

Talk to your child and listen to them carefully. By keeping an open line of communication, you’ll have a better relationship with your child and your child will come to you when there’s a problem. But there’s another reason for communication: you help your child integrate different parts of his/her brain. When different parts of the brain are integrated, they can function harmoniously as a whole, which means fewer tantrums, more cooperative behaviour, more empathy, and better mental well-being.

To achieve that, talk through troubling experiences and ask your child to describe what happened and how he/she felt so they can develop attuned communication. You don’t need to have all the answers to be a good parent. Just listening to them talk and asking clarifying questions will help them make sense of their experiences and integrate memories. Try stepping back when you feel angry or frustrated and find ways to turn every negative experience into a learning opportunity for him/her.

Following these parenting tips will not only help you keep a healthy perspective, but it will also help you to achieve primary goals in parenting— building a good relationship with your child.


National health policies should not be solely concerned with mental illness but recognise and address the broader issues affecting all sectors of society including the school-going population. These would include the social integration of severely marginalized groups, such as refugees, disaster victims, socially alienated, mentally disabled, abused children.

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