Tackling Mental Health & Burnout

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Have you ever seen individuals who used to excel in academic and co-curriculum face severe mental breakdowns later in life? Do you know of anyone who managed to pursue their studies in great institutions but then dropped out due to lack of motivation? Have you met an old friend who you can no longer hold a sensible conversation with?

Surely we must know or heard of some of these individuals, and usually the change in character stems from mental break down they experienced at some point in their lives. In fact some of us may have experienced or close to experiencing it. That is because mental illness is real and we often forget that it is the number one cause of disability in many countries.

Due to stigmatisation, those who experience it are often at crossroads, scared to voice their concerns in fear of looking wimpish all while hating themselves more each day. What is more alarming is that most are unaware of the state of their mental health.

All of these disorders are complex and while the exact cause is unknown, it is generally believed that a combination of biological, psychological and/or environmental abnormalities contribute to the development of these illnesses.

As we grow older, we are pushed to the tipping point where burnouts and unrealistic expectations gradually decline our mental well-being which hinders our potential to lead a fulfilling life. While noting the existence of poor mental health is pertinent, being cultured in the matter is just as crucial.

“Often, we forget to check ourselves which can lead to burnout. We can regain the sense of “control” by these 4 steps : 1st is improving our self awareness. 2nd to “recognise” the signs and symptoms. 3rd to “Respond” to the situation and 4th to “Resist”.

Ellisha binti Othman, Managing Director (MD) of Science Of Life Studies (SOLS) Health

So how do we deal with mental illness? As a start, we need to be aware and recognise the signs. Here are three most common symptoms you should know about.

Anxiety Disorder

Everyone experiences anxiety. It is your body’s natural response to stress which causes feelings of nervousness, worry or fear. However, a constant overwhelming or disproportionate level of anxiety can mean that it may be an underlying disorder. For instance, it is natural to worry about exams but not so to the extent that it can significantly disrupt sleeping or eating patterns for a prolonged period.

Anxiety disorders are one of the most prevalent mental health disorders, with 1 out of 14 people around the world being likely affected. There are several types of anxiety including obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The general symptoms that occur when individuals experience anxiety are feeling lethargic, rapid heart rate, chest pains, nausea, increased blood pressure and digestive problems. You can imagine that if these symptoms persistently occur, they can even lead to or co-exist with conditions such as depression, disability, suicidality and other health complications. Unfortunately, very few people who require treatment actually receive it as it is often under-diagnosed.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Symptoms


Depression is not simply feeling down for an hour out of your day because you lost your phone. If you can pick yourself back up out of that well of despair, then you have not experienced the utter helplessness of depression. Depression is the loss of pleasure in daily activities that substantially affect our lives. It is a constant companion that is beyond the control of those who experience it to the point where they are unable to do their everyday routine.

Common symptoms of people are having low energy, a lack of motivation to do things which can sometimes be interpreted as boredom, impaired decision-making capacity, fatigue and sleep problems. For example, perhaps one day they may refuse to get out of bed, experience difficulty concentrating on work or abruptly avoid social situations.

Depression Symptoms

Alongside the unending sadness, depression can increase the inclination for substance abuse, reckless behaviours and suicidal ideations. These features reveal themselves in many forms and can hit you at work, in your car, at a birthday party or even at a shopping centre. Thus, it is incredibly important to look out for them either in yourselves and in others.

Eating Disorder

Taking the classic Instagram dive, from asking themselves “why am I like this?” when seeing other “perfect models” before shifting to eating dangerously low amounts of food is a frightening phenomenon. While in some individuals, it may be a healthy wake-up call, for others, it may lead to the extremes whereby eating disorders come into play, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and many others.

The obsessive fear of gaining weight and having an unrealistic body perception is known as anorexia nervosa. Often, we are not privy to the unseen battles these individuals face when they are alone. They are consumed with toxic thoughts ranging from “my skirt is too short, now everyone can see my fat legs” to “I can’t believe I had that doughnut, now I won’t eat for 2 days”. As one can guess, an exceedingly insufficient diet can lead to brain damage, multi-organ failure, bone loss, heart difficulties, infertility and other health problems.

On the other hand, bulimia nervosa is characterized by repeated binge eating followed by the need to compensate for overeating through vomiting or excessive exercise. This vicious cycle is usually done secretly in great shame and guilt. If continued, it can have detrimental consequences, such as gastrointestinal problems and heart difficulties resulting from an electrolyte imbalance. In this modern age where outer appearances are considered a commodity, it is no wonder that the number of people with eating disorders is increasing.

Eating Disorder Symptoms

Respond and Resist

Sadly, the biggest barrier in mental health is stigmatisation. Most view these illnesses as something controllable or a product of the individual’s weak will.

Among the varying methods to aid those with mental health are psychotherapy which can help identify the underlying causes. It provides an opportunity to address traumatic life events and negative thoughts by learning healthier coping skills.

A good indicator of recovery is having strong family and social support. Knowing that your family and peers are all encouraging can increase the motivation to manage destructive thoughts and behaviours.

It would also be best to visit a doctor where they can determine whether the symptoms you have are a result of any underlying health condition before providing an appropriate solution.

“Many of us want to be successful or do certain things due societal pressure at the expense of our mental health. But in our quest to achieve great heights, we must take into account our own wellbeing too, even if it means putting the expectation of others on the back burner. Since life is a marathon, we need to know when to jog and sprint.”

Azeem Abu Bakar, MD of FMT

Although mental health awareness has increased, inaccurate representations of entire groups of people still remain leading to societal discrimination. As such, mental health interventions should be delivered as part of an integrated health strategy that covers prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation.

Voices from those who suffered from these mental illnesses need to be heard. In line with this belief, we would like to introduce Sabrina Benaim, a slam poet who shines a light on depression through her poems.

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