Responses to be attributed to Dr Lee Yu Wei, Consultant, Department of Mood & Anxiety, Institute of Mental Health (IMH)
Do you have any advice for individuals who are only starting to recognise their mental health issues?
Much like physical health, mental health falls on a spectrum – with being healthy on one end and being unhealthy or suffering from a disorder on the other. This also means that a person isn’t necessarily in the pink of mental health just because he doesn’t suffer from any mental health condition.
Recognition is the first, but arguably the most important step in dealing with mental health difficulties, because identifying these difficulties can help to prevent the situation from getting worse. I would recommend that once we start to realise that our mental health is affected, we should look inward as to the reason we may be feeling this way.
Examples of some questions to ask yourself would be: What are the stressful situations I am currently facing? Why is this particularly stressful for me? What can I do to alleviate or address these situations? How am I coping with the situation? Am I starting to indulge in harmful coping strategies like procrastination, or even taking substances like alcohol? Who can I reach out to for some support? Am I neglecting my physical or mental self-care? Have I planned out time, however short, to take my mind off these stressful situations to relax?
If you realise that you are beginning to be unable to carry out your usual activities, that may a time to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.
Scientifically, what goes on in our brains when we struggle with mental health?
Generally, there is a balance between the stressors that we face, and the sum total of our resources or ability to cope with these stressors. When the former surpasses the latter, it can sometimes cause an imbalance in some of the neurotransmitters (or signalling chemicals) in particular parts of our brain. In such situations, depending on the neurotransmitter in question, it can lead to the development of mental health disorders like depression or anxiety. Some examples of these neurotransmitters include serotonin and noradrenaline.
What are some treatments for anxiety?
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable conditions. Anti-depressants like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are typically used to treat anxiety conditions. In addition, specific psychological therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Therapy have been shown to be highly effective.
How does medication/therapy help, and should they be taken in tandem or separately?
Treating certain mental health disorders like depression and anxiety disorders involves a multi-pronged approach (e.g. medication, therapy, etc), although the role of each element may differ from situation to situation. Medication can help to restore or regulate the imbalance in neurotransmitters to target symptoms on a more micro level, while therapy can help to change the networking of brain cells to help adjust unhelpful thought patterns on a more macro level. They can be used separately or in tandem, depending on what is helpful for individual’s condition.
Are there any self-help resources for individuals afraid of seeking professional help/diagnosis? Is there anything they should be aware of or not do?
There is still some degree of stigma against mental illnesses in our society, and this may lead to hesitation in seeking help when one first encounters difficulties. There are resources available both online and offline. Many organisations including the Institute of Mental Health and Singapore Association of Mental Health as well have information on their websites about common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. It would also be beneficial for individuals to read up about how to cope with unhelpful thought patterns, as well as how to manage one’s emotions.
It is important though, to recognise when the situation has gone beyond one’s current ability and resources for self-help. In such instances, it would be important to seek help early, rather than allow the problem to fester.
In conjunction with Mental Health Month, be sure to check out other articles down below on anxiety, OCD, and coping with mental health. The ISTS Team has also prepared the following resources for your reference:
Edited by Lydia Yasmin
Illustrations by Jasreel Tan