Thursday, December 6, 2012

A little bit crazy

We're a little bit crazy in someway.

I guess life's challenges puts us at the throngs of balance between too much happiness and too much sadness.

We are all tested by major changes, delayed promises, impossible problems, unanswered prayers, undeserved criticisms and even senseless tragedies. Often times, we say that these are just "tests in life" and we need to pass the tests.

The tragedy felt by family members of suddenly losing a parent to a disaster in a family that is tightly knit is different if the family was in disarray from the get go. Job loss or financial difficulties are more stressful to someone who is the major bread winner. Whatever the problems are, the circumstances surrounding it form the "icing on the cake".

Mental health is as important as physical health. In the United States, it is estimated that about 25-30% of Americans suffer from mental health problems - anywhere from anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, alcohol and substance abuse, sexual deviations, to name a few. The data in the Philippines is not any different - perhaps what will vary are the types of mental health disorders but the overall statistics more or less remains the same. Which means that about 30Million Filipinos suffer from mental disorder. The difference in gathering more data in the Philippines lies in the fact that seeing a psychiatrist or seeking assistance for mental health problems carries a stigma in the country. It's probably why we brush aside patients who have mood disorders and say that they're just not in their element for the day or children who are hyperactive as just part of the growing up years or that they're just "spoiled" brats.

Because of the cultural differences and the fact that many Filipino physicians even fail to recognize early signs of deteriorating or changing mental health is a barrier to educating laymen on the process of recognizing and helping patients with these disorders.

Today, people and science are taking mental health to a new level. With awareness, must come answers to properly address how we can manage, recognize and refer patients to health care providers experienced at diagnosing and treating mental health disorders.

Here are a few tips on recognition of mental health problems:
1. Children react differently from adults. While adults may talk about it, children usually mimic what they see by re-enacting it or experience night terrors or nightmares.

2. Mood changes between mania and depression may be abrupt and often times are difficult to recognize. Because it may be rapidly-cycling, the general public brush aside these mood swings as "sumpong" of the person.

3. We're all a little bit crazy. That's a given. I have my mood swings and have had good and bad days as well. The tipping point comes and goes and I coast along the road of life. For those who have mental illness, however, the symptoms continue over a period of time. In short, it's pervasive. Remember, there are various mental disorders and each of them should fulfill a cluster of diagnostic criteria to fall under a classification.

4. People who suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) mimic depression. Flashbacks are common among these victims of trauma and symptoms can appear much later after the incident (sometimes 3 months to 1 year). Nightmares and avoidance of certain places or people who trigger the trauma are usually presenting manifestations. They also retell the story over and over again to those who are willing to listen. They are usually easily started or are hypervigilant.

5. Never take suicide - whether expressed verbally or attempted - casually. Any form of expression of suicide must be taken seriously.

6. Just because you understand the symptoms does not mean that it can replace professional advice, treatment or any other form of care. If you really understand what the person with mental illness is going through, you need to help him/her seek professional help. Understanding alone is not the solution to the problem.

7. Many illnesses have symptoms that may either overlap or be similar in appearance as another disorder. For example, patients may be mis-diagnosed as major depressive disorder when in fact the patient may be in the depressive phase of a bipolar disorder. On the extreme end, however, is the fact that ONE symptom is not an indication for a mental illness in the person.

You can help your friend or neighbor or relatives or even yourself by making sure that your mental health stays in check as well.

The site of the Philippine Psychiatric Association with this link

is a great read.

Think about it...we're all a little bit crazy some days of our lives. But for those who are a bit crazy for most days of their lives, there's hope for them than just mere understanding. They have the right to lead better lives as well and the road to recovery isn't just about recognition of the's about taking the road with them one day at a time...

[Photo from the Philippine Psychiatric Association]

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