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Lately, an increased global awareness on mental health has met with a growing number of listening ears.

American singer and actress, Lady Gaga, recently lent her voice to the current mental health crises the world is experiencing.
In an op-ed co-written with the World Health Organization’s director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom, she addressed the stigmas surrounding the epidemic.

According to the op-ed, suicide, at the rate of 800,000 cases per year, is the “most extreme and visible symptom of the larger mental health emergency we are so far failing to adequately address. Stigma, fear and lack of understanding compound the suffering of those affected and prevent the bold action that is so desperately needed and so long overdue.”

Suicide cases reach 800,000 per year
Suicide cases reach 800,000 per year

Mental health conditions aren’t just a function of psychological anomalies; biological, environmental and socio-economic issues also have to be addressed in dealing with this menace. This point really has to be understood, as people facing mental health challenges are often condemned, neglected and even ostracized.

In many places especially in most African countries, there are little or no support systems, a poor attitude of society towards this category of individuals thus leaving them to an uncertain fate. Sadly, people affected by mental health disorders have higher levels of mortality and morbidity, with an increased prevalence of non-communicable diseases and suicide.

Good mental health is fundamental to the well-being of individuals and the society at large while poor mental health has been identified as one of the biggest causes of disability, reduced quality of life and productivity, with depression being the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Poor mental health is one of the biggest causes of reduced quality of life
Poor mental health is one of the biggest causes of reduced quality of life

More troubling is the inadequate mental health facilities, healthcare professionals and domestic funding experienced by many African countries. Globally, according to Gaga and president of the WHO, “mental health currently receives less than 1% of global aid. Domestic financing on prevention, promotion, and treatment are similarly low. At present, every nation in the world is a “developing” country when it comes to mental health.”

Physiotherapists and mental health

Physiotherapists are seen as experts in aspects of physical health care and have a grossly overlooked place in improving mental health. Physiotherapists are trained to offer:

• Non-pharmacological management of pain.
• Expertise in prescribing individualized exercise programs, which can improve mood, promote wellbeing and address co-morbidities associated with mental health diagnoses.
• Interventions to address physical issues of people with mental health diagnoses which hinder social participation and recovery.
• Expertise in motivating, where appropriate, patients and promoting self-management in the context of mental and physical health issues.
• Expert advice and intervention to address impaired body awareness and reduce dissociation (disconnection from ‘thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity’) associated with poor mental health.

Some benefits of exercise on mental health

  • Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Improve the quality of sleep
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Improve social interaction
  • Creates a sense of achievement
  • Improves cognitive function
  • Improvement in mood
  • Reduces fatigue and improves mental alertness
  • Reduces dependence on pharmaceuticals
  • Exercising is a healthy activity that all family members can participate in together
Exercise improves mental health
Exercise improves mental health

To sum it up

There’s a chance that while you were reading this article, six people have been lost to suicide. Equally, one in four people will have to deal with a mental health condition at some point time meaning that if you’re not affected, someone close to you might be. Starting an exercise program will help you and your loved ones prevent and mitigate the effects of mental health adversities.

Sources

  1. Department of Health and Ageing (2008). National Mental Health Policy. Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra.
  2. Gracious, B. L. & Meyer, A. E. (2005) Psychotropic-Induced Weight Gain and Potential Pharmacologic Treatment Strategies. Psychiatry (Edgemont) 2(1): 36-42.
  3. Misra, M., Papakostas, G. I. & Klibanski, A. (2004) Effects of Psychiatric Disorders and Psychotropic Medications on Prolactin and Bone Metabolism. J Clin Psychiatry Dec; 65(12) 1607-18.
  4. Bolton, J. M., Targownik, L. E., Leung, S. et al (2011) Risk of Low Bone Mineral Density Associated with Psychotropic Medications and Mental Disorders in Postmenopausal Women. J Clin Psychopharmacol Feb;31(1): 56-60.
  5. Craft, L. & Perna, F. (2004) The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 6(3): 104-111.
  6. Babyak, M., Blumenthal, J. A., Herman, S. et al (2000) Exercise Treatment for Major Depression: Maintenance of Therapeutic Benefit at 10 Months. Psychosom Med. Sep-Oct; 62(5): 633-8.