While we all think that only someone who is dealing with extreme mental stress is likely to self- harm or experience suicidal thoughts, it might not be true. A recent study suggests even mild or moderate mental distress can lead young people to experience it.
The study published in the BMJ Open, aims to suggest that public policy strategies to reduce suicide should support better mental health for all young people, not only those who are most unwell.
Does the degree of mental distress impact mental health issues?
Earlier studies have shown that mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem can be measured together as levels of common mental distress (CMD).
This study continued to study the correlation of the degree of mental distress causing mental health issues. Researchers used a series of questionnaires to analyse common mental distress in two large groups of young people between the ages of 14 and 24.
To study the impact of mental distress on suicidal thoughts, they collected self-reported data on suicidal thinking and non-suicidal self-injury, both predictive markers for increased risk of suicide.
What did they find?
Before understanding the correlation between the degree of mental distress and mental health issues, we must understand how mental distress is measured.
Common mental health disorders (CMD) scores increase in three significant degrees above the population. They go from average mild mental distress, followed by moderate, and finally severe distress and beyond – which often manifests as a diagnosable mental health disorder.
Although, the study showed that those with severe mental distress came out highest for the risk of suicide. Interestingly, the majority of all participants experiencing suicidal thoughts or self-harm have either mild or moderate levels of mental distress.
About 78% and 76% experiencing suicidal thoughts or self-harm respectively in the first sample had a mild or moderate level of mental distress. Similarly, 66% and 71% in the second sample had similar results.
A Cambridge University study author, Peter Jones stated: “ It appears that self-harm and suicidal thinking among young people dramatically increase well within the normal or non-clinical range of mental distress.”
Mental health research must focus on helping everyone rather than just assisting most affected to have a bigger impact.
How can that happen? Jones further shared, “It is well known that for many physical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, small improvements in the risks of the overall population translate into more lives saved, rather than focusing only on those at extremely high risk.”
While we’re facing a pandemic leading to an increase in mental health cases, we must remember that since the majority of self-harm or suicidal cases come from low-risk populations, we must not ignore our mild mental health symptoms.
(With inputs from IANS)