With the drastic changes in the past few years, including the COVID pandemic as well as social and political upheavals, it comes as no surprise that according to the National Center for Health Statistics, there was a rise in the number of adults who received treatment for mental health disorders from 2019 to 2021. It is important to take care of your mental health, whether you are a working professional or a student.
The Call to Action
On May 3, 2023, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory to the U.S. public, highlighting the alarming amount of loneliness and its detrimental effects on individuals, young and old alike. He then proceeded to lay out a detailed plan about how to increase social connectivity, a move that is unprecedented, but very much needed. He stated, “Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight — one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives.” It might seem a bit obvious, but mental illnesses have been around for centuries, and it is more important than ever that we find different ways to combat it, which I will discuss later below.
Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
Although it may only seem relatively recent that there has been stigma surrounding mental health today, the stigma has been present for centuries. For instance, in Europe, it used to be that families who took care of individuals who had mental illnesses were stigmatized. In fact, it reached the point where families would abandon members who were mentally ill by leaving them on the street as beggars. Other times, the afflicted individual(s) would be locked up inside a cellar, or otherwise caged. In addition, other times the afflicted individuals were brutally beaten, in an effort to “rid the body” of whatever was causing the mental illness. There were many reasons for the stigmatization, one reason being that having a mentally ill family member suggested that there was a defect somehow in the bloodline of the family. Today, however, we now know that there are many different reasons for mental illness, and we have ways to treat them appropriately.
In 792 CE, the very first hospital for those who were mentally ill was founded in Baghdad, Iraq. From there, there have been different treatments that have been used, all with varying degrees of success. For instance, in the 1930s, psychosurgery was introduced. This involved putting the afflicted individual into a coma, and then poking a sharp instrument through both of the patient’s eyes (I can only imagine how painful that would have been!). The hope was to cut the nerve connections between the frontal lobe (the portion of the brain closest to the forehead, which is responsible for memory and judgment, among other functions), and the portions of the brain responsible for emotional control (like the amygdala). However, this treatment lost traction fast as various doctors criticized the invasiveness of the procedure and the lack of its effectiveness (the patient would end up being tired, which was quickly recognized as not being a cure).
Strategies To Maintain Your Mental Health Before It Declines
Today, there are many ways to protect your mental health before it declines. One way that I like to maintain my mental health is through saying my prayers regularly. Islam has prayers for every situation imaginable, and one prayer for when I am feeling overwhelmed is this : “I am overcome, so come Thou to my help.” (Al-Qamar, 54:11).
Another way is through daily exercise, whether it is by taking a walk out on a beautiful day, or by running a few miles. I also like to spend time on hobbies, like reading. I personally enjoy reading memoirs, and find that it provides intellectual stimulation but also gives a break from everyday life. It is important to find something positive that works for you, so you can use it before your mental health suffers.
In conclusion, there has unfortunately been heavy stigmatization surrounding mental health throughout history. However, today, there are many ways to protect your mental health before it declines. What works for you?