What is mental health?

Mental health refers to the wellness of the cognitive, mental and emotional. It all has to do with how people think, feel and act. People often use the word “mental health” to mean a mental illness is not present.

Mental wellbeing may have an impact on everyday life, relationships and physical health.

But the connection works in the other direction as well. Conditions in the lives of individuals, interpersonal interactions and physical factors may all lead to disturbances of mental wellbeing.

Looking for mental health can preserve the ability of one person to enjoy life. To do so is to strike a balance between life events, commitments and psychological resilience efforts.

Conditions like stress, depression, and anxiety can all affect a person’s mental health and interrupt the routine.

While the term mental health is widely used, many conditions have physical origins which doctors recognize as psychological disorders.

In this article, we clarify what mental health and mental illness mean to people. They also identify the most common forms of mental illnesses and their early signs and how they can be treated.

What is mental health?

A girl with mental health
Mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of disability in the U.S.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO):

“Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes that mental health is “more than just the absence of mental illnesses or disabilities.” Peak mental health is about not just preventing adverse problems but also taking care of continuous wellbeing and satisfaction.

They also emphasize that maintaining and improving mental health is important on an individual basis, as well as through different cultures and societies across the world.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that about 1 in 5 adults encounter mental health issues per year in the United States.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 11.2 million people in the US, or around 4.5 percent of people, had a serious psychological condition in 2017.

Risk factors for mental health conditions

Everyone has a certain chance of developing a mental health condition, regardless of their age, gender, income or ethnicity.

Mental illnesses are one of the leading causes of disability in the US and most of the developing world.

Social and financial conditions, biological factors and lifestyle choices all can shape the mental health of a individual.

A significant number of the mentally ill people have more than one illness at a time.

It is important to remember that a delicate combination of influences relies on healthy mental health and that many aspects of life and the environment at large will work together to lead to disorders.

The following factors can contribute to alterations in mental health.

Continuous social and economic pressure

Having limited financial resources or belonging to an ethnic group disadvantaged or persecuted can increase the risk of mental health disorders.

A 2015 study of 903 families in Iran reported many socio-economic factors of mental health problems, including poverty and living on a large city’s outskirts.

The researchers also clarified the disparity between the availability and consistency of mental health care between terms of modifiable factors, which can change with time, and permanent non-modifiable factors for other classes.

Modifiable factors for mental health disorders include:

  • socioeconomic conditions, such whether work is available in the local area
  • occupation
  • a person’s level of social involvement
  • education
  • housing quality

Nonmodifiable factors include:

  • gender
  • age
  • ethnicity

The study lists gender as both a modifiable element and an unmodifiable one. The researchers found that being female has 3.96 times increased the likelihood of poor mental health status.

In this report, even people with a “poor economic status” scored the highest for mental health conditions.

Biological factors

The NIMH suggests genetic family history may increase the likelihood of mental health conditions, as certain genes and variants of genes present a higher risk to a individual.

Yet many other factors contribute to these disorders’ development.

Holding a gene with linkages to a mental health illness, such as depression or schizophrenia, does not ensure the existence of a disease. Likewise, individuals with no associated genes or a mental disorder family background may still have mental health problems.

Due to underlying, life-changing physical health problems such as cancer, diabetes and chronic pain, mental health conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety that develop.

Common mental health disorders

The most common types of mental illness are as follows:

  • anxiety disorders
  • mood disorders
  • schizophrenia disorders

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

People with these conditions have extreme anxiety or apprehension which is related to certain things or circumstances. Most people with an anxiety disorder may try to prevent exposure to something that causes their anxiety.

Examples of anxiety problems include:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

The American Psychiatric Association define GAD as disproportionate worry that disrupts everyday living.

People might also experience physical symptoms, including

  • restlessness
  • fatigue
  • tense muscles
  • interrupted sleep

For people with GAD, a bout of anxiety symptoms doesn’t usually require a particular cause.

We may be excessively nervous to experience daily circumstances that do not pose a clear threat, such as tasks or appointments. A person with GAD often has no reason to feel anxiety at all.

Panic disorders

Individuals with a panic disorder suffer frequent panic attacks including extreme, crippling fear or an impending feeling of disaster and death.

Phobias

There are different types of phobia:

  • Simple phobias: These might involve a disproportionate fear of specific objects, scenarios, or animals. A fear of spiders is a common example. 
  • Social phobia: Sometimes known as social anxiety, this is a fear of being subject to the judgment of others. People with social phobia often restrict their exposure to social environments
  • Agoraphobia: This term refers to a fear of situations in which getting away may be difficult, such as being in an elevator or moving train. Many people misunderstand this phobia as a fear of being outside. 

Phobias are deeply personal and doctors do not know each form. There may be thousands of phobias, and what may seem odd to one person could be a major problem for another that consumes everyday life.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

OCD sufferers have obsessions and compulsions. In other words, they are having persistent, anxious thoughts and a strong desire to do repetitive activities such as washing their hands.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can occur after a person experiences a profoundly stressful or traumatic event or is witness to it.

In this form of case, the person feels their lives or the lives of others are in danger. We can feel afraid, or have no control over what’s going on.

These pain and fear experiences may then lead to PTSD.

Mood disorders

People can refer to mood disorders as affective or depressive disorders, too.

Those with these conditions experience major mood swings, including either mania, which is a time of high energy and elation, or depression in general. Types of mood problems include:

  • Major depression: An individual with major depression experiences a constant low mood and loses interest in activities and events that they previously enjoyed. They can feel prolonged periods of sadness or extreme sadness.
  • Bipolar disorder: A person with bipolar disorder experiences unusual changes in their mood, energy levels, levels of activity, and ability to continue with daily life. Periods of high mood are known as manic phases, while depressive phases bring on low mood.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): Reduced daylight triggers during the fall, winter, and early spring months trigger this type of major depression. It is most common in countries far from the equator.

Schizophrenia disorders

Mental health experts tend to seek to decide whether schizophrenia is a particular illness or a group of similar diseases. This is a state of great uncertainty.

According to the NIMH, symptoms of schizophrenia usually evolve between ages 16 and 30. Individuals may have thoughts that are scattered and can find it difficult to process knowledge, too.

Schizophrenia has signs which are negative and positive. Severe signs include visions, hallucinations and thought disorders. Negative signs include isolation, lack of energy, and flat mood or inadequacy.

Early signs

There is no physical test or scan which indicates reliably whether a individual has developed a mental illness. People should also look for the following potential symptoms of a mental health disorder:

  • withdrawing from friends, family, and colleagues
  • avoiding activities that they would normally enjoy
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • eating too much or too little
  • feeling hopeless
  • having consistently low energy
  • using mood-altering substances, including alcohol and nicotine, more frequently
  • displaying negative emotions
  • being confused
  • being unable to complete daily tasks, such as getting to work or cooking a meal
  • having persistent thoughts or memories that reappear regularly
  • thinking of causing physical harm to themselves or others
  • hearing voices
  • experiencing delusions

Treatment

There are different ways to treat mental health issues. Treatment is highly individual and does not work for another what works for one person.

Some approaches or treatments combine with others to be more effective. A individual with a chronic mental illness can choose different options at different stages of his or her life.

Individuals need to work closely with a specialist who will help them identify their needs and provide an adequate diagnosis for them.

Treatments can include:

Psychotherapy, or talking therapies

This method of treatment adopts a therapeutic approach to mental illness care. Examples include Cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy are examples

This method of diagnosis is carried out by psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists and certain primary care physicians.

This will help people realize the origin of their mental illness and continue to focus on healthy habits of thinking that sustain daily life and minimize the risk of depression and self-harm.

Medication

Some people are taking prescribed medications including antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anxiolytics.

Although these can’t cure mental illnesses, some medicines can relieve the symptoms and help a person regain social contact and daily routine when working on their mental health.

Many of these drugs function by improving the release of feel-good chemicals from the brain by the body, including serotonin. Many drugs either improve these chemicals’ overall levels, or avoid their degradation or destruction.

Self-help

A individual with mental health issues will typically need to make lifestyle changes to promote wellness.

These improvements may include reducing alcohol consumption, sleeping more, and consuming a healthy, balanced diet. Individuals may need to take time off work or address problems with personal relationships that can harm their mental health.

Individuals with conditions such as an anxiety or depressive disorder may benefit from relaxation techniques, including deep breathing, meditation, and attention.

It may also be important to have a support network, whether through self-help programs or close friends and family, to recover from mental illness.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you have thoughts of suicide, or someone you know, a hotline for prevention will help. The National Lifeline for Suicide Prevention is available at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day. People with trouble hearing should dial 1-800-799-4889 during a crisis.If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 1-800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 1-800-799-4889.

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