Since the start of the Corona virus and the opening of lockdowns all over the world, the topic of mental health of sportspersons has taken the spotlight. Top international sportspersons in Tennis, Athletics, Gymnastics and in fact in all sports have spoken out, about how badly they have been affected. The Olympics-2020 being now held in Japan, has brought to the forefront once again the topic of mental health.
Mental health seems to be taking too much of a toll on sportspersons. Some strong enough are able to bring it to the attention of others. Many not strong enough are unable to confront it and silently suffer for years and some for the rest of their lives.
What actually is Mental health?
Before trying to understand mental health, let’s try to understand what is health.
The World Health Organization defines health as:
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”
So the WHO has included Physical Well Being + Mental Well Being + Social Well Being = HEALTH
Let’s start first by looking at physical health.
“Physical health is generally defined as being free from illness”. This is the simplest definition.
If we wish to keep the physical body free from illness and want to be healthy, we have to follow certain simple rules. The simple rules are:
1.We have to eat a balanced diet.
2. We have to exercise daily.
3. We have to take adequate rest.
If we do these 3 things, we would be physically healthy!
By doing these three simple things my body will be healthy and have sufficient resistance to face the external world.
We also know that however healthy we are, the world around us is not a sterile, hygienic place. There are diseases lurking everywhere, in the air we breathe, in the water we drink and in the food we eat, in our homes, in our parks, on table tops, everywhere, not to mention via other human beings who act as transmitters of disease.
So, if we have to live a healthy life, we have to take care of two factors:
Subjective factor= You the healthy person. Let’s call him / her : THE SUBJECT
Objective factor = The environment, surroundings etc., let’s call it: THE OBJECT
So a healthy physical life depends upon subjective factor and objective factor.
Subjective factor is physical resistance.
Objective factor is clean environment.
Those of us who are physically healthy also know that it is the most important way of keeping diseases away. In fact many experiments have shown us that if a physically healthy person is exposed to another person with a disease ( let’s say the common flu), then around 80% of those persons won’t get infected, because their internal immunity was strong enough to keep the infection away.
But the remaining 20% who were not that healthy will get infected.
Now if we look at the ones who are not healthy and see what they need do, to recover their health, we will know that the following things are important:
- Visit a doctor and get the disease diagnosed correctly. The symptoms might be of common flu, maybe something else. The way to confirm is to go to a doctor.
- Eat the prescribed medicines in the correct dosage, at the right time and for seven days as prescribed by the doctor.
- Take rest.
Suppose after doing as the doctor prescribed, they still aren’t OK, after 7 days. They visit the doctor again and the doctor asks them, did you do all the things I told you.
The patient says YES.
The doctor asks again, are you sure?
The patient says YES.
Then the doctor says I hope you didn’t eat anything sour or too cold while you were on medication.
The patient says YES I DID.
So even though the patient DID all the things the doctor advised, but went ahead and ate sour and cold things, which were not specifically mentioned by the doctor but were implied.
The doctor then advises the patient, that they need to again repeat the medicine for a week and this time take precautions not to eat anything sour or too cold.
After another week the patient fully recovers. So, we learned that recovery from the disease needs two aspects to be kept in mind:
1. Proper medication, at right time etc. = TO DO
2. Take precautions of not eating sour and cold = NOT TO DO
Hence recovery involved : TO DO + NOT TO DO.
Now, let’s see how this formula applies to Mental health.
But before we proceed, let’s understand what is Mental health.
The Vedas (ancient texts) give an easy definition of mental health.
“Mental health, means a mind free from all kinds of physiological diseases in the form of fear, anxiety, stress, strain, worry, anger, jealousy, inferiority complex.”
They suggest that mental health can be maintained by applying the formula of physical health to mental health.
When we are facing the problems of fear, anxiety, stress, strain, worry, anger, jealousy, inferiority complex etc., we generally will say that the environment, surroundings etc., which we called (THE OBJECT) are responsible for mental ill health.
So, we will say:
- The coach is responsible for my lack of self esteem.
- My competitors are responsible for my anger.
- My boyfriend / girlfriend / partner are responsible for my jealousy.
- The parents are responsible for the frustration.
- The wife or husband is responsible for my tension.
- The world is responsible for my anxiety.
- The children are responsible for my worry.
But in mental health, as in physical health two factors have to be kept into account, i.e. the OBJECT and SUBJECT.
The OBJECT, the external world is not totally responsible for our mental problems. Just as the environment is not totally responsible for the disease. It is my body’s (SUBJECT) lack of strength which makes it susceptible to diseases; which we call physical weakness. That is also responsible.
So as a healthy physical life depends upon subjective factor and objective factor.
Subjective factor is physical resistance. Objective factor is clean environment.
Similarly Mental health depends upon subjective factor and objective factor.
Subjective factor is mental resistance. Objective factor an environment of people and situations which are conducive.
So if I wish to be mentally healthy, and look forward to have a happy, contended, secure, and a relaxed life; then I have to take care of BOTH the SUBJECT (ME) and OBJECT(THE WORLD).
Mostly what we see ourselves doing is working on correcting the OBJECT (THE WORLD). Correcting my boyfriend, my girlfriend, my partner, my parents, my wife or husband, making my coach or federation see my point of view. Most of our energies are focussed upon fixing them.
Eventually we will find out, unfortunately when it is too late, that we shouldn’t have been spending so much of our precious energy upon the world. It doesn’t work.
What we should have been doing was to work upon ourselves the SUBJECT.
Once I have got sufficient mental strength to face the situation, even if the whole environment (OBJECT) is unhealthy, my mental strength / resistance is so much, that I do not get affected. Same as the persons who were exposed to the common flu, in our above example. Most of them (80%) won’t get infected because they were physically healthy and were able to keep the disease away. Only 20% who were unhealthy got infected.
So, if we continuously work upon building our mental strength, we will not be affected by the world. That is the right direction in which we have to work upon our Mental Health.
How do we Build our Mental Health.
That is the Million Dollar question!
We will discuss that in my next blog.