Mental Illness; Fact or Fiction? Here’s what Science Says

Many adhering to 'practicality' suggest that depression, anxiety, and more mental illnesses we hear of, don't really hold much significance, sometimes, being described as hypocrisy too. In the fast-paced lives to which humans are still adapting, such emotions have become a part of their every day. Just a mere part, regardless if it devours them to a point where consciousness holds no importance and ultimately recasts their mental state. Nevertheless, in reality, these occurrences are delusional and a play of life. But what if these sets of delusional plays meet the realm of human understanding, science, and are proven to be justifiable?

The definition of mental illness in Collins Dictionary reads as- “any of various conditions in which a person's thoughts, emotions, or behavior are disordered and can cause suffering to himself, herself, or other people.” Similar to the fact that coronary heart diseases/cardiac arrests are based on the functioning of the heart, asthma/pneumonia is based on the functioning of the lungs, mental illness originates from the brain. Not only does stress on one’s mental state affect the individual on the surface, but has also been traced down to the genes by researchers. The studies conducted by the World Health Organisation suggest that the DNA is responsible for sharing necessary knowledge with the offspring in the form of synthesized protein structures. DNA and its protein structures are essential for making synaptic, neuronal connections and circuits in a brain. However, variations or mutations can occur in the protein and genetic structures formed. Due to this, the offspring can acquire or lose certain connections. This can result in having abnormal mental abilities or losing some abilities.

Mental Illness

An experiment showed that the rats with supportive and caring mothers could tackle stress easily later in life, while rats of unmindful mothers were more sensitive to stress. And not just their offsprings- this characteristic was later passed down too. These are known as epigenetic changes. They change behaviors without changing any sort of sequence in the genes, and can be reversible by putting the pup under better and supportive conditions and the other way round.

As mentioned previously, the brain is the main subject of a mental illness. Madumita Murgia, an expert in the field of science and health mentioned in her study that whenever you are in a stressed situation from which your brain is trying to escape, the HPA axis in your body gets activated and releases a hormone called cortisol, causing stress which is often lasts for short durations. But 'chronic stress ' (the state when a person is stressed quite often) results in a higher amount of cortisol released. And this abnormal increase of cortisol can have terrible effects on your brain. It can also make your brain shrink in size! The HPA axis gradually begins to weaken and so does the way you respond to stress. It has negative impacts on the 'hippocampus', the part of your brain responsible for learning and memory. Worst cases can see loss of connections between neurons. This, and lack of release of serotonin can lead to worse problems like stroke and Alzheimer's disease.

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder where one loses the ability to think and behave properly. The symptoms are hallucinations, trouble in speech and thoughts, and delusions. The World Health Organization says that “Research has not identified one single factor. It is thought that an interaction between genes and a range of environmental factors may cause schizophrenia. Psychosocial factors may also contribute to schizophrenia.” It is medically considered as a severe situation, yet, people suffering from them are discriminated against and often put down, deprived of human rights. Treatment is provided but many people don’t have access to it. Likewise, dementia, a term for a couple of conditions impaired together. The symptoms include frequent forgetfulness, inability to socialize, and various thinking conditions that would disrupt daily activities. The causes would include Alzheimer’s, blood blockage and irregularity in the brain, damage to brain cells, or probably thyroid and vitamin deficiencies. For treatment, medications are given and therapy can exclude some symptoms too. Problems like these are often ignored and criticized by communities but are necessary to pay attention to

Despite the seemingly dismal state of mental illness today, there are also preventions and cures. To avoid problems in mental health, self-care should always be a priority. This includes eating well, getting an adequate amount of sleep, enough exercise, giving time to hobbies, and learning new ones. According to NCBI, studies show that maintaining ‘healthy’ social ties can be an advantage for health. Sleep from seven to nine hours is required to stimulate your brain and improve immunity. For diet too, it is better to eat a balanced diet with foods like leafy vegetables that help your brain, instead of foods you are likely to get addicted to due to the temporary serotonin release. These simple activities keep you stimulated and increase the amount of serotonin released in the body. If symptoms of mental illnesses are detected, psychotherapy is immediately suggested. Receiving professional assistance will help form a health plan to prevent further severity. Antidepressants and other medicines are prescribed to the ones affected. Medication for mental illnesses can alter the release and flow of various chemicals in your brain. Though they can reduce the most recurring symptoms, a few side-effects have been reported for certain medications, including weight gain, nausea, sleepiness, and more.

We conducted a survey regarding mental health with a group of school students. WHen asked about how vocal people are about mental illness, 69.5% reported scores of 4 or lower on a scale of 10. Referring to the pie chart given, people believe young adults face these illnesses most (73.9%), followed by senior citizens (13%), adults (8.7%) and children (4.3%). This evidence is a reminder of addressing mental illnesses more severely as the youth is also getting affected. 52.2% also strongly believe that it is completely normal to visit psychiatrists or therapists for help. Quoting a few suggestions on how to generalize mental illnesses: “It should be addressed often and people should be encouraged to talk about it. If students face the same then they should feel comfortable to talk to anyone they want to about it and hence more awareness should be spread.” “To help people talk about it more and communicate about it to people who they are comfortable with.”

With respect to the above evidence of mental health and its complications, science has proved mental illnesses. Despite this, they have become a known taboo in society. As a generation that is still trying to recognize the significance of mental health, we still hope to see more consideration in the communities. Flourishing research is being done in such areas of psychiatry to bring in advancements in these fields, and these studies shall further advance to become a backbone for our understanding. Lisa Olivera, an expert therapist, and author rightly stated 'Just because no one else can heal you or do your inner work for you doesn't mean you can, should, or need to do it alone.' Even though a large number of people suffer, most are hesitant in approaching for help. It’s important to remember that seeking help doesn’t come into picture only when the problem is severe or chronic. We should approach an expert no matter the severity of our condition. Though the procedure required for age groups would differ, it is medically necessary to receive professional help whenever needed. And then only, will the stories be heard and addressed the way they deserve to be.