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What is Mental Health?

Mental health is a state of well-being, similar to physical health, but directly refers to cognitive, emotional, and behavioral health. A common misconception with mental health is that it means the absence of a mental disorder. However, it is much more than that. Maintaining positive mental health provides benefits beyond avoiding a disorder, it directly impacts our physical health, relationships, and responsibilities.

Mental Health Conditions

There are several mental health conditions, most of which you can probably think of someone in your life who experiences one. In fact, 1 in 5 U.S. adults are afflicted with a mental illness each year. It is important to note that suffering from a mental health condition does not mean you are “broken”, “crazy”, or anything else.

These conditions can be genetic or environmental, and people have practically no control over developing one.

A few examples of these conditions are:

  • Anxiety disorders

Everyone experiences anxiety at one point or another, but if these symptoms are long-lasting or overwhelming, it may be an anxiety disorder.

  • Depression

Depression is more than just ‘feeling sad’. These symptoms have to be severe and lasting at least two weeks in order to be considered depression. Besides feeling sad or hopeless, depression can also directly affect sleep, appetite, and weight.

  • Eating disorders

Eating disorders can be incredibly dangerous to one’s health. This involves intentionally changing food consumption to the point of physical and social behaviors being negatively affected.

  • Schizophrenia

Although this disorder manifests differently in everyone who suffers from it, schizophrenia has been known for causing someone to lose touch with reality. This can be through hallucinations (visual or auditory), delusions, changes in decision making, an inability to think clearly, and more.

Risk Factors

Practically everyone is at risk for developing some sort of mental health condition in their lifetime. In the United States, mental disorders are actually the leading cause of disability. Social and economic pressures can be the prominent factors in developing a mental illness. Although, these conditions can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. Maintaining good mental health is harder than working out a muscle, it is a consistent effort and a balancing act. For example, with anxiety disorders, it is important to avoid what triggers your symptoms. This can be objects, situations, people– whatever. This is the most common type of mental illness. If not handled correctly, it can be quite detrimental to a variety of facets in your life.

Modifiable factors for mental health disorders:

  • Housing quality
  • Education
  • Social involvement
  • Socioeconomic conditions

Nonmodifiable factors:

  • Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Gender

These factors either change over time or are permanent. Researchers found that those who identify as female are 3.96x more likely to suffer from poor mental health.

Warning Signs

Like with anything, it is important to be able to know and identify the warning signs of mental health conditions. If you or someone you know is suffering from any of these signs or behaviors, it could be a link to a mental illness:

  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Feeling numb (like nothing matters)
  • Drastic changes in appetite or weight
  • Having low or no energy
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • New aches or pains
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Inability to perform tasks
  • Severe mood swings
  • Distancing from loved ones

While these symptoms and behaviors do not necessarily mean someone is suffering from a mental illness, if they are consistent, new, or unusual, you may consider seeking help.

Treatment

There are a variety of ways to treat mental health conditions. It is important to note, however, that this is not a ‘one size fits all’; what works for you may not work for everyone. Talking therapy is one of the most successful methods for coping with mental health conditions. This method is great for people to understand the root of their illness and come to terms with it. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy are all methods one’s therapist may implement. Some people may be prescribed medications to manage symptoms (such as antidepressants or antipsychotics). Self-help is another great method to improve your mental well being. Making changes in your diet, sleep schedule, and exercise routine can lead to big improvements in all facets of your health. For instance, people who suffer from anxiety or depression may really benefit from implementing relaxation breathing techniques into their daily routine. Meditation and mindfulness can be quite beneficial for a lot of people.

In the COVID-19 era (and with modern technology), telemedicine also provides a great opportunity for people to stay mentally healthy.

When it comes to mental health, there are many ways to keep ourselves positive and feeling good. Now more than ever it’s important to check in on yourself and loved ones to ensure we are all okay. We hope this introduction to mental health is helpful as you move forward in your lives!

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