Mental health professionals.

What Is Mental Health and Why Is It Important?

Mental health is a term we hear a lot. But what is mental health, and why is it important to our overall wellness

Mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness; it’s your emotional, social, and psychological well-being. Like physical health, mental health can change over time and should be maintained throughout your life. People with good mental health can cope with daily stressors in a healthy way, work productively and contribute to their communities. 

Mental illness, on the other hand, is a diagnosable illness that significantly impacts daily life. This can include changes in mood, personality, personal habits, or social withdrawal. 


What Does It Mean to Have Good Mental Health?

Mental health affects how you think, feel, and act. It determines how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices, and it’s important at every stage of life, from adolescence through adulthood.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14 years old, and three-quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24.

Individuals who experience mental health problems may have changes in thinking, mood, and behavior. Many risk factors contribute to mental health problems:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • History of mental health problems in family members

Good mental health is an important part of your overall health, and just like a broken bone, mental health issues should be diagnosed and treated. Mental health professionals are trained to identify and help you work through any issues you may have. Since there is no “one size fits all” with mental health issues, treatments depend on the individual, but most treatment plans include medication and/or talk therapy (also referred to as psychotherapy).

Self-care is one of the best ways to maintain good mental health or support treatment if you have a mental illness. Self-care helps you manage stress, lowers your risk of illness, and increases your energy. 

There are small things you can do every day to improve both your physical and mental health. The National Institute of Mental Health has many tips to start your self-care journey:

  • Get regular exercise
  • Eat healthy, regular meals
  • Stay hydrated
  • Make sleep a priority
  • Try a relaxing activity
  • Set goals and priorities
  • Practice gratitude
  • Focus on positivity
  • Stay connected

Types of Mental Illnesses

There are many types of mental illnesses and each one affects people differently. According to the American Psychiatric Association, nearly one in five adults in the U.S. experience some form of mental illness

Conditions that affect your mental health include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders — just to name a few.

For additional information, the National Institute of Mental Health offers numerous informational fact sheets on a variety of mental health issues and concerns.

Anxiety Disorders

When you think about anxiety, you might picture a person pacing around their house in the middle of the night or someone so nervous that they’re shaking and can’t sit still. Those are obvious symptoms, but anxiety is actually a lot more complicated than that.

Most people with anxiety don’t realize they have it. They think it’s normal to check their phone every five minutes or have trouble sleeping. However, oftentimes, those behaviors aren’t normal; in fact, they’re often a warning sign that something is wrong. 

 

Anxiety disorders are real conditions that affect people from all walks of life. It won’t go away if you just ignore it, but help is out there.

Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are a scary experience and a key marker for a panic disorder. During a panic attack, you may have an accelerated heartbeat, chest pain, trouble breathing and dizziness. 

A panic attack can start without warning, so the fear of having one can affect your life and happiness.

Phobias

Everyone is afraid of something, whether it’s spiders, heights, clowns or simply going outside. For some people, the anxiety and discomfort are so extreme that it interferes with daily functioning, which is a sign of phobia disorder.

Phobia disorder is an anxiety disorder that involves intense fear of a specific object, situation, or activity. Individuals living with an extreme phobia may recognize that their fear is irrational, but they still experience heightened anxiety when exposed to it. The fear is so intense that it can seriously impact their life;  people experience severe panic attacks or refuse to be put in situations where an object or situation may be.

There are many types of phobia disorders, though several are common ones:

      • Agoraphobia (fear of being in public places)
      • Acrophobia (fear of heights)
      • Claustrophobia (fear of being trapped in small spaces)
      • Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
      • Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)
      • Cynophobia (fear of dogs)
      • Hemophobia (fear of blood)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that develops after experiencing a traumatic event(s). A person with PTSD may relive the traumatic experience over and over again in the form of nightmares or flashbacks. They can feel stressed or frightened even when they’re not in danger.

It’s often difficult for someone with PTSD to carry on with their life as they did before the trauma, whether that means going to work or school, spending time with loved ones, or enjoying hobbies. However, treatment is available and can help people manage their symptoms for a healthy and fulfilling life.

Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within three months of a traumatic event, but sometimes won’t appear until years later. 

While most people associate PTSD with a singular event, that is not always the case. The COVID-19 pandemic was a long-lasting event that has affected the entire world. It is expected that there will be a high prevalence of PTSD from the stress of living through a pandemic

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder 

If you’ve ever felt like your mind is stuck in a loop and you can’t stop thinking about certain things, you’re not alone. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most common mental disorders, affecting more than two million adults in the United States living. It’s commonly diagnosed in young adults. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a type of mental illness that causes repetitive thoughts or behaviors that seem impossible to control. People who have OCD might spend hours at a time doing things like washing their hands or counting steps. These activities help them feel better for a short time but end up taking over their lives.

There are two main types of symptoms associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder: obsessions and compulsions. 

A person might have both obsessions and compulsions without realizing it. For example, someone with contamination fears might wash their hands until they bleed, or they may count how many times they step on a crack in the sidewalk (and start over if they get to an unlucky number).

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are mental illnesses that affect a person’s mood. There are two types: depression and bipolar disorder.

Depression is a constant feeling of sadness or hopelessness, while bipolar disorder is periodic shifts between depression and mania. Symptoms of mood disorders include insomnia, lack of appetite, loss of interest in activities and feelings of despair.

Mood disorders are a class of mental illnesses that cause a person to think, feel, and respond differently than other people. Each mood disorder has different symptoms and methods of treatment.

Depression

Major depressive disorder is characterized by extreme sadness, lack of interest in activities the person used to enjoy, low self-esteem, self-harm, and lack of energy for day-to-day tasks. This can include feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness. Everyone feels sad from time to time, but major depressive disorder makes it hard to function in day-to-day life.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder causes extreme shifts in mood—from feelings of euphoria to feelings of hopelessness and extreme sadness. These shifts in mood can make it very challenging to maintain relationships or keep up with work obligations.

Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorder is a mental health condition that causes someone to abuse or become dependent on drugs or alcohol. Abusing drugs or alcohol increases the risk of addiction, which is a chronic disease that affects the brain.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that about 23 million people are struggling with substance use disorder in the United States. Of those people, about nine million have an opioid use disorder.

Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. People who experience substance use disorders are sick and in need of treatment. When talking about addiction, it’s important to treat the person as well as the disease. You might hear the term “substance use disorder,” which is a technical way to talk about the symptoms of addiction.

The general idea behind substance use disorder is that you’ve become dependent on a drug or alcohol, and it interferes with your life. The drug or alcohol may be interfering with your ability to work or with your relationships. You might even feel like you need the substance to cope with stress or feel “normal.”

Substance abuse and addiction is a primary, progressive, and chronic disease, but it can be overcome with the proper treatment and support.

Schizophrenia

Do you know the difference between a thought and a hallucination?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking. It’s a highly individualized illness that requires an individualized treatment plan. 

Schizophrenia affects thousands of people every year, yet many of us don’t know much about it. The condition can be difficult to diagnose since its symptoms are often subtle at first. The most important thing to remember is that schizophrenia is treatable. 

Symptoms of schizophrenia can include the following:

    • Hearing voices that others don’t hear
    • Feeling like someone’s out to get you when they’re not
    • Having racing thoughts
    • Forgetting things easily
    • Difficulty concentrating

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder that can cause above-normal levels of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. People with ADHD may have trouble focusing their attention on a single task or sitting still for long periods.

For some people, ADHD symptoms are mild. For others, they can be severe and make it hard to function at home, work, school, or in social situations.

How Common Are Mental Health Issues?

Mental illness affects people of all ages and backgrounds across the globe. In the United States, mental health issues are shockingly common—and shockingly under-treated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five adults will experience a mental illness during their lifetime.

Mental health issues know no boundaries. They affect people of all ages, races, and genders, both in and outside of the US. Sadly, too many people with mental health issues will never get access to the mental health care they need to manage their conditions.

You’re Not Alone – Reach Out to Meridian HealthCare

Mental health is a complex issue that affects each individual differently. But, recognizing the importance of taking care of your mind (just as you would take care of your body) is the first step toward maintaining good mental health throughout life.

The most important thing about mental illness is that it is a real disease and it can affect anyone. Mental health is a vital component of your overall health and well-being.

There will never be a perfect time to get help — but when you’re ready, so are we. Call Meridian HealthCare today to start your road to a healthier, happier life.

*If this is an emergency, please call 911 or the suicide helpline at 1-800-273-8255.