Mental illness: A hereditary condition that must be monitored


It is common knowledge that a person’s family’s health history should be transparent when seeking medical care.

This is the same when determining whether a person has mental illnesses, Dr Elizabeth Nickram-Validum, a psychiatrist attached at the Georgetown Public Hospital has said.

World mental health day was observed on Saturday last to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilise efforts in support of mental health.

Dr Nickram told the News Room Thursday that mental health “is a state of wellbeing,” and explained that mental illnesses are sometimes hereditary. Therefore, persons who have relatives suffering from mental illnesses have higher risks of developing similar challenges.

“People who develop mental illness, they usually have a genetic vulnerability. It is written in their genes that they can become unwell people without this genetic vulnerability can also become unwell if they have prolonged emotional stress,” Dr Nickram explained.

However, persons who do not have a history of mental illness in their family can be affected by mental conditions as well.

“Once you satisfy all the tenants of the definition then we consider you to be mentally healthy. If you’re able to recognise what your abilities are and to use them to work to contribute to society and deal with stressors in your everyday life, that’s an indication that you’re having good mental health,” She noted.

She underscored the impact of mental health illnesses on a person’s ability to lead a productive life.

“Mental health is something that we want, mental illness is cultivated when genetic vulnerability to disease make people become unwell,” the doctor explained.

“We have psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia and substance-induced psychosis and then we have neurotic illnesses like depression and anxiety. But these are for the adults.”

She said this can be triggered by having an unfulfilling job, abusive relationships and friendships. She added that the well-being of relatives and the stresses that this may bring on a person can cause them to become vulnerable to mental illnesses.

Additionally, she said children also experience stress and while they do not indicate this to persons, depending on their relationship with their families, they might misbehave or develop habits that are unlike their usual behaviour. These are indicators of stress in children.

“We have seen children in the clinic from as young as four-years-old…usually we are concerned with children who are hitting at school, bullying other children, children who are quiet and not participating, not learning as fast as other children,” she explained.

Mental illness is a fault to no one and to avoid developing mental illnesses, she said that people can check their state of mental well-being by being aware of their behaviors and changes in those behaviors.

“Check to see what their mood is. Check to see if they’re irritable if they find themselves snapping. Have some self-awareness of how you behave during the day and monitor that.”

“Our approach to the treatment of mental illnesses is a bio-psychosocial approach. We have doctors, psychiatrists that target the biological aspect of treatment and we have psychologists that target the psychological aspects of treatment,” she said.

She added that “Everything that is necessary for physical health is necessary for mental health. Not drinking, having proper diet, sleeping well, exercising and having good relationships with people,” can help to maintain mental wellness.

She further noted that at the GPHC, persons can speak with social workers or psychologist first to determine whether they have mental distress or an illness. It will then follow up with a determination as to if the person should be evaluated for an illness. The illnesses require treatment by use of medications.

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