Roberta Kisubi is an incoming MSC Health and International Development student at the London School of Economics. She shares her thoughts on mental health with us, with stats for us to truly understand what is meant by mental health and why we should take it seriously as we pursue our legal careers.
An important factor that must be considered when you are pursuing a corporate career such as Law, is mental health. This is a very demanding field and as such, it is important to take care of your well being as you work towards your goals, whether this is during your studies or at work. We cannot dismiss the fact that at times you will be stressed, overwhelmed or even feel low and exhausted. Your mental health matters, you have to take care of yourself. I thought it would be great to discuss what mental health is and how you can look after yourself as you strive for success.
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and contribute to society. In the same way that we need to care for our physical health (through good nutrition and and exercise) in order to reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases, we all have a mental health that we need to manage in order to minimise the risk of mental illness and perform to the best of our abilities (I expand on the ways in which mental health can be managed in the final section of this article).
Mental health illnesses can affect everyone irrespective of class, gender, race, ethnicity etc. Examples of common mental health illnesses include alcoholism, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Globally 1 in 4 people (approx. 450 million people) are suffering from a mental health illness. 800,000 people year die by suicide and 79% of this figure comprise of teenagers from low income communities between the ages of 15-19 years. It is important to note that mental health illnesses can be triggered by a traumatic/challenging event or in some cases they develop without any explicit cause.
Mental illnesses do exist on a spectrum in that anyone can suffer on either the higher end or lower end. It is imperative to understand this point as it plays a crucial role in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness. Unfortunately, the image that has been used to define mental illness in entirety is the one of a ‘mad man’ in dishevelled and dirty clothing eating out of a dustbin. That being said, this singular image represents a mental illness that was not treated appropriately on the lower end of the spectrum and then progressively got worse.
In tackling the stigma around mental health, we need to be aware that anyone’s mental health can become severe if we do not appropriately handle mental illnesses in the early stages.
There are several ways in which mental illness can manifest for example:
- Mental illness can look like managing to complete assignments but with an overwhelming struggle and feeling of brain fog coupled with decision paralysis.
- Mental illness can look like failing to get out of bed every morning.
- Mental illness can look like using alcohol, drugs and food to try and address a pre-existing mental condition.
How can we ensure we have good mental health and how do we bounce back from a low point
As a person that has struggled with anxiety, depression and eating disorders, I have had to accept is that there is no magical solution to treating mental health disorders. This might sound pessimistic but I think it enables one to create reasonable expectations in their pursuit to improving and managing their mental health. Based on my personal experience and reading, the five points below can play a key role in enabling you to manage your mental health.
- Professional psychological help i.e. therapy. I do understand that therapy in certain parts of the world is extremely expensive but you can find some affordable options e.g. Mentally Aware Nigeria (provides free counselling and mental health assessmentshttps://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools?ref=MANI),‘Cleaning up the mental mess’ podcast by Dr. Caroline Leaf PHD, University of Pretoria and Rachel Nabirinde,- psychologist MSc. University of Edinburgh (email@example.com).
- Podcasts and You tube content focused on mental wellness can be a great resource e.g. Jay Shetty and Breeny Lee.
- Exercising in moderation and eating well. Minimising consumption of processed foods can reduce sugar crashes which have scientifically been proven to have a negative effect on mental health.
- Managing your relationship with alcohol. I chose to stop drinking 2 years ago because it was causing me more harm than good and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Making a decision like this and sticking to it can be extremely tough. A trained professional can provide you with guidance on how best to tackle this.
- Confide in friends, family and faith groups that will not undermine the way you feel. Unfortunately we do have a ‘but other people have it worse’ response to pain. Trying to avoid dealing with your mental illness because other people have it worse does nothing to address your problem so focus on confiding in people who will actually take a proactive approach to your challenges.
- If you do have a loved one dealing with a mental health disorder, do not be angry at them because they aren’t taking the steps they need to get better. Dealing with a mental illness is complex making it challenging to overcome. Instead provide them with as much love and support as you can.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on mental health globally and it has also served as a stark reminder about the importance of policy, dialogue and funding for universal health care. Some of the tips I have shared in this article on addressing mental health are not accessible to everyone.
Furthermore, a significant part of our society cannot even access this article let alone read it or find the resources to put the knowledge to use. When we think about improving our mental health we need to adopt a selfless attitude and think about what we can do to improve the mental health of those less fortunate in our community. For example donating to an education charity to minimise the mental health burdens faced by parents that can’t afford school fees. For as long as everyone doesn’t have equal access to healthcare, our economies are not going to reach their full potential which has a direct impact on everyone.