What is Mental Health? Why is it important?

Importance of mental health

Table of Contents

Mental health is one of the most spoken about topics in today’s day and age. Right from celebrities to medical practitioners, many are talking about the need to acknowledge and seek help from mental health practitioners especially for ones who find it difficult to cope up with certain life situations. In this post we will focus on understanding what is mental health, why is it important, how mental health affects physical health and so on.

Before reading this article, rate yourself on a scale on 1 to 10 (1 being least likely and 10 being most likely) on three things.

  1. The likelihood that you will seek treatment for physical health problems.
  2. what are the chances of you engaging in spiritual practices when something goes terribly wrong in your life?
  3. The likelihood of you seeking help from a mental professional for an emotional, behavioural or mental issue.

In our experience, most people who do this activity have the lowest rating on the third scale. If you are one of them, you must read this article. In case you are one of those few who have rated yourself high on the third scale, congratulations! You must share this article with others who may not understand the importance of mental health.

We, humans, have 3 fundamental aspects of wellness

  1. Physically
  2. Mentally, and
  3. Spiritually

All three are equally important in achieving and maintaining complete well-being.

But do we really give them equal importance?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

Consider this, when people have physical problems, most are likely to go to a doctor for a medical check-up. They get their blood pressure, temperature and weight measured. They also opt for a blood test to check for issues with cholesterol, blood sugars, thyroid, iron levels, electrolytes and other measures.

When it comes to spirituality, India has always attracted a huge number of people from different countries across because of its spiritual and mystical charm. From practising yoga or meditation to visiting some religious gurus to perform some religious pujas, people are actively engaged in spiritual practices to solve problems.

But what about mental health?

How many of us actually even consider the need to visit a specialist instead of just talking to our friends, family members and colleagues?

One of the problems that people face when it comes to seeking help for mental health is that they don’t know when they need to seek help. The lack of awareness is so prominent that most people don’t even understand the difference between mental health and mental illness. The two terms are incorrectly used interchangeably at most a times.

So what is the difference between mental health and mental illness.

To answer that, first we’ll have to define mental health.

What is mental Health?

You have probably heard the term ‘Mental health’ yet not many actually know what it means. Give this a thought and think of what this term actually means for you. Define it in your own words.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO):

Mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

So rather than being about ‘what’s the problem?’ it’s really about ‘what’s going well?’

It is about wellness than illness.

Mental Health vs Mental Illness

When do you think mental health is more important, when one is having some mental illness or when one is already living a healthy life?

Ideally, mental health is equally important. It goes without saying that when one is already suffering from some mental illness, one needs to visit a Mental Health Practitioner.

But for people who are already living with good mental health, it becomes equally important to develop and sustain habits that would help one to continue living a healthy life.

Both, mental wellness or health, and mental illness lie on a continuum.

Mental health is at one end of the spectrum – represented by feeling good and functioning well – while mental health conditions (or mental illness) are at the other – represented by symptoms that affect people’s thoughts, feelings or behaviour.

Not everyone will be diagnosed with a mental illness but everyone certainly has “mental health”.

Researchers have shown that high levels of mental health are associated with:

  • Increased learning
  • Creativity and productivity
  • More pro-social behaviour and positive social relationships and
  • Improved physical health and life expectancy

In contrast, mental health conditions (or mental illness) can cause distress, impact on day-to-day functioning and relationships, and are associated with poor physical health and premature death from suicide.

Now let’s understand what mental illness actually is.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental Illness (MI) refers to a disorder of mood, thought, perception, orientation, and memory which can affect the overall functions of social cognition and behaviour causing distress to the individual and his/ her family, this also includes conditions created due to substance abuse and alcohol.

Current scenario of mental health in India

According to the World Health Organisation, 7.5 per cent of India’s 135-crore population suffers from mental health issues, major and minor. That’s over 10 core people.

Conversely, to provide care for those 10-crore people, as per a 2015 Ministry of Health report, there were only 3,800 psychiatrists, 898 clinical psychologists, 850 psychiatric social workers, 1,500 psychiatric nurses and 43 mental health hospitals with a combined capacity of 20,000 beds in all of India.

While these figures are alarming, they do not include the number of counselling psychologists as these are not yet (as of March 12 ‘2019) included within the definition of mental health practitioners in India.

We also have the highest rate of suicide in the world between the ages of 15-29.

A cross-sectional study conducted by Jugal Kishore, Anvi Gupta et.al (2011), who aimed to assess the myths, beliefs and perceptions about mental disorders and health-seeking behaviour in general population and medical professionals of India showed:

That the mental disorders were initially thought to be because of loss of semen or vaginal secretion, less sexual desire, excessive masturbation, God’s punishment for their past, and polluted air.

40.2% in rural areas, 33.3% in urban areas, and 7.9% professionals believed that mental illnesses are un-treatable.

Many believed that psychiatrists are eccentric (46.1% rural, 8.4% urban, 7.9% professionals), tend to know nothing, and do nothing (21.5% rural, 13.7% urban, 3.9% professionals), while 74.4% of rural subjects, 37.1% of urban subjects, and 17.6% professionals did not know that psychiatry is a branch of medicine.

More people in rural areas than in urban area thought that keeping fasting or a faith healer can cure them from mental illnesses, whereas 11.8% of medical professionals believed the same. Most of the people also reported that they would rather go to someone close who could listen to their problems when they were sad and anxious.

Only 15.6% of urban and 34.4% of the rural population said that they would like to go to a psychiatrist when they or their family members would suffer from some mental illness.

This is interesting but at the same time very unfortunate finding.

Though it sounds bizarre, yet many people don’t go to a mental health professional for a mental health exam even today. Their reasons could vary. In many cases, people only seek out a mental health professional only after some crisis has occurred.

According to a survey by WHO, India ranks 2nd when overall mental illnesses are concerned, ranks 1st in the list of countries where people are most affected by depression and anxiety, and ranks 2nd followed by China in the list of countries where people are more abused by drugs and alcohol. This is an alarming situation!

What happens when someone shows signs of mental discomfort?

Most of us ignore the signs either consciously or unconsciously. What we don’t realise is that mental health, in fact, can have a major influence on our life!

Effects of mental illness on daily life

  1. Daily work gets affected

    Think of a person who is having serious anxiety issues or a lot of stress. The person may have difficulty sleeping, focusing on work and difficulty in doing simple chores.Think of a time when you were under a lot of stress. Ask this to yourself, how do you perform when you are under extreme stress and compare it to when you are not too stressed?

    Mental health problems tend to kill your level of productivity. If one is simply not in the right mental state, he/she won’t be able to perform effectively at work. Would he/she?

  2. Family life gets affected

    Having mental disorders can also affect family and other aspects of a person’s life. Imagine how much patience would it take to deal with someone who has a mood disorder or anxiety issues.There are chances of family life becoming unsettled and unpredictable as the needs of the ill become paramount.

    Dealing with a family member who has a mood disorder or anxiety can also take a lot of effort on family members and can also be very exhausting.  Dealing with the daily distortions in thinking and behaviour, frequent medical appointments, added time and expenses devoted to the individual could make things more complicated.

  3. Creates psychosomatic symptoms

    Have you ever been in a situation where you felt extreme pain in any part of your body but were not able to find a single trace of actual physical symptoms?Do you know of someone who suffers from constant headache or pain in any part of the body?

    While such pain may not necessarily have any physical reason but may actually originate from some emotional or stress-related issues. Such illness is called “Psychosomatic Illness”.

    Compare your body to a pressure cooker. Given a chance to vent its steam, it will sit there and happily cook along. If it’s not allowed to vent its steam, the pressure will build up till the lid blows off. Now, let’s say you have a cooker under pressure, but you’re applying pressure to hold that lid on (the human equivalent would be holding in your emotions).

    What will happen?

    Eventually, the vessel will break at its weakest point.

    The same goes for people. If one of your body systems is weakened, this is where a stress-related illness is most likely to develop. If your weakest point physically is your neck, you’ll probably develop neck pains. Or back pain. Or ulcers. Or frequent colds and flu.

    You get the picture, don’t you?

    Such Psychosomatic illnesses stem from emotional stress or damaging thought patterns and seem to progress with physical symptoms, usually when a person’s immune system is compromised due to stress. Such psychosomatic conditions are real and need to be dealt with immediately just like any other physical illness!

  4. Affects spiritual practices

    Have you come across people who constantly suggest going for a meditation camp when you are under stress or anxiety?But isn’t is difficult for one to meditate peacefully when he/she is already in the state of anxiety or depression or stress?

    Most of the thoughts and emotions that people have during such mental states are self-depleting. Now imagine what will happen when one will sit for meditation with all such self-depleting thoughts and emotions?

    They are likely to get more intensified! Which is not to say that meditation is bad. All one needs to do is do the right kind of meditation with the right kind of guidance. And most importantly, one needs to deal with those bothering thoughts and emotions if one wants meditation to work perfectly for him/her.

Ask yourself this, “Now that I am aware of how devastating the effects of mental illness can be, should I visit some mental health professional the next time I feel something’s wrong?”

You will probably answer “yes” now, wouldn’t you?


Having sound mental health can help you to enjoy your life, environment, and the people in it. You will be creative, willing to learn new things, better able to cope with difficult times in personal and professional lives. It will also prevent the onset or relapse of any physical or mental illness. Taking care of and maintaining mental health can serve two purposes- prevention and cure.

  1. What can one do when one is already suffering from some mental illness?
  2. Visit a psychiatrist and also a psychotherapist.

Many people hesitate seeking professional help because of the stigma that has been associated with it, so far. However, as awareness increases, people are beginning to open up to the idea that emotional and mental well-being is as important (if not more) as physical health.

Different Psychotherapies for improving Mental Health

Thanks to different psychological schools of thought there are different types of therapies to choose from. Some of the therapies that this huge reservoir of therapies consists of are Behavioural therapy, Psychoanalysis, Cognitive Behavioural therapy, Hypnotherapy etc.

While each of these therapies has their plus points and minus points, we prefer using an integrated approach to these therapies. This integrated approach severs as a really effective tool to deal with many mental issues.

We will have more articles focusing on understanding how this integrated approach can help to deal with different types of mental issues. If you are someone who wishes to learn and practice this integrated approach then refer to this link for the complete course details.

If you or someone you know would like to consult a practitioner for matters related to mental health, feel free to connect with us on +91-8080-2084-73.