What is Mental Health?

Defined by Wooton (1959, p.221) Mental Health influences the way an individual adjusts to live and behave in a resourceful and fulfilling manner in his/hers world, and deals in a socially considerate manner the challenges and obstacles which life presents. I chose this definition because it describes mental health from a perspective, that mental health is more than an absence of mental illness (Jormfeldt et al, p.55). In evidence of the above, mental health does not just mean mental illness, it also means positive mental health (Magyary 2002, p.331).

Positive mental health envelops: positive thinking, feelings, behaviours; crucial e.g.: to be able to make rational decisions; deliver a professional care to patients; learn; network; have self awareness (Burnard 1992, p.13); and deal, and cope with moments of fear, anxiety, change, stress, and physical illness (Long 1998, p.535-541).  

In contrast Mental illness or mental health problems is the term used to describe individuals experiencing problems in the way they think, feel, behave, and cope with life events that are not expected as part of society/culture/religion; resulting in significant affect in their relationships, work, studies, motivation, self-esteem and quality of life (Diamond & Barker 1996, p.13).

Discussing the definition by Wooton (1959, p.221), in relation to the part “socially considerate manner”, mental illnesses are some of the least understood conditions in society. Many people face prejudice and discrimination. It is like a dichotomy – division ‘us’ and ‘them’ (Magyary 2002, p.332). Concepts of normal/abnormal; good/bad; beautiful/ugly is defined (Sayce, 1998, p.331). But how can normal be defined? E.g.: societies and cultures define concepts of moral, normal, and beautiful differently (Reynolds et al, 2007 p.1611). It appears, we try to fulfil our basic needs of physical and mental health, safety, and sense of “belongingness” (Maslow 1970) (appendix 1); believing, in the normality concept of behaviour and actions, conditioned to us by culture and society (Reynolds et al 2007, p.1611-1612). As professionals, we must holistically understand in a non-judgmental way that all individuals, despite their behaviour, mental health, physical health, spiritual beliefs and social background are all worthy of help, treatment, care, happiness, empathy and compassion (Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) 2004, p.4).  

Mental health illnesses can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, gender or social background. 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. Mixed depression and anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in Britain, to cost the UK around £8bn a year in medication, benefits and lost working days. Depression is estimated to become the second most common cause of ‘disability’, after ischemic heart disease, by 2020 (Mental Health Foundation 2005).

Two main classification systems utilised to diagnose mental health illnesses are: the  (ICD-10), by the  (WHO), and the  (DSM-IV) by the  (APA). These include over 300 different manifestations of mental illness (appendix 2).

According to WHO (1992, p.3), most Mental Health illnesses can be classified as neurotic or psychotic. Disorders referred to as neuroses are frequently called “common mental health problems”. Examples of neurotic illnesses are depression and anxiety. Less common are psychotic disorders or illnesses e.g.: schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder (manic depression), which interfere with a person’s perception of reality, and may include hallucinations such as seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things that no-one else can.

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To identify factors of one common mental health problem, I reflected upon the most common mental health problems experienced by patients in my placement. I selected to focus on depression in cancer patients. To support my discussion and evidence-base my essay, I selected books, related websites, and the biblibiographic databases CINAHL and PsycINF.

According to Cancer Research UK (2008) up to 58 out of 100 people with cancer develops depression. This highlights the need for a clearer understanding of the different reactions to the presence of cancer, in order to establish effective emotional support. Cancer can affect every ...

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