Mental health has been defined in a number of different ways by different institutions and individuals. We define mental health as the state of our mental activity. It determines our ability to think, concentrate and perform day-to-day functions. Everything that we do is influenced by the state of our mental health. Good mental health causes us to function effectively, whereas poor mental health results in the impairment of our functionality. Functionality is the ability of an individual to function appropriately and be a productive member of society. It has three aspects:
- The capacity to work or study.
- The ability to maintain quality relationships with other people.
- The capability of looking after ourselves effectively.
Mental health is closely linked with our physical and emotional health. This means that a change in either of these affects the other two. For example, if Noor experiences a major emotional trauma such as the death of a loved one, and doesn’t deal with it effectively, it can lead to the deterioration of her emotional health. This may be accompanied by the weakening of her mental health, affecting her concentration. As a result, she may stop paying attention to her physical health and may even indulge in harmful behaviours, like smoking, to deal with the stress, resulting in a decline of her physical health. It is therefore important to look after all aspects of health.
Mental health is closely linked with our physical and emotional health.
We thrive and flourish because different organs in our bodies carry out various essential tasks to keep us functioning. For example, the heart pumps blood, the liver removes toxins and the kidney controls the water level of our body.
The brain is the most important organ since it is the control centre of the body. If any other organ fails, we can still survive by either replacing it through transplantation or by using other therapies. However, any brain injury is very significant and often becomes a matter of life and death. It controls virtually everything we as humans experience, including movement, sensing our environment, and controlling our emotions. Thousands of chemical reactions occur every second in the brain; those reactions underlie the thoughts, actions, and behaviours with which we respond to environmental stimuli. In short, the brain dictates the internal processes and behaviours that allow us to survive.
Another reason for the brain’s importance is its sheer complexity, different aspects of which we are still trying to understand. Previously it was thought that the brain was like any other organ in that, as we grow older, it only changes in size, without any substantial change in its chemistry. However, recently it has been discovered that the brain is special in that our life experiences alter its neurochemical structure. This is called neuroplasticity; ‘neuro’ meaning brain and ‘plasticity’ meaning the capacity to change. For example, the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin is lower in individuals who have depression. This finding led to the development of certain medications for the illness.
For example, when we start to learn playing the guitar, we initially aren’t very good at it, but if we keep on practicing, we slowly improve. This is due to neurochemical changes which are occurring in our brain as we are learning through experience. Similarly, if we start to drive a car, initially we are a bit scared and unsure. However, as we keep on practicing, we slowly get better since the experience of driving practice causes changes in the neurochemical makeup of our brain.
Everything that we experience, from the day we are born to the present moment, influences the physical development of our brain and, subsequently, our mental health. In turn, our mental health affects how we perceive and experience our daily lives, how we go about our daily routines and how we interact with others, which is why a healthy balance between emotional, mental and physical well-being is necessary for healthy functioning. Understanding the relationship between our internal sensations and external experiences is one of the first steps towards achieving a wholesome, healthy lifestyle.