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Understanding the Importance of Mental Health

Mental health is something we talk about more and more in our world today, but it is still something that very few people truly understand. However, mental illness is incredibly prevalent in America, and it is important to make sure people have access to the resources they need.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is not just about the presence of mental illness. It is also about an individual’s level of psychological well-being. Mental health is about how someone is functioning with emotional and behavioral adjustments. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health includes:

  • Subjective well-being
  • Perceived self-efficacy
  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Inter-generational dependence
  • Self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential

The WHO also expanding on the concept of well-being, stating that an individual’s well-being includes:

  • Realization of their abilities
  • Coping with normal life stresses
  • Productive work
  • Contribution to their community

Of course, in both cases these definitions will be subject to cultural differences and competing professional theories. Although most experts believe that an individual’s mental health helps determine how they handle stress, relate to others, and make choices in life. Therefore, the development of mental health is important through every stage of life. Experiencing problems with mental health can impact your thinking, mood and behaviors.

Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

  • Family history of mental health problems
  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse

Truthfully, there are many factors that can contribute to mental health issues, which can ultimately manifest into a number of different mental health disorders.

Common Mental Health Disorders

Mental health is extremely complex, but some conditions are more common than others. Some common mental health disorders include: 

  • Anxiety Disorders

This is the most common mental illness in the United States. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults age 18 or older in the United States, or 18.1% of the population every year. There are a number of anxiety disorder, including specific phobias.

  • Depression

There are different types of depressive disorders. While most have similarities, each has unique symptoms that set them apart. The most commonly diagnosed form of depression is Major Depressive Disorder.

  • Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are defined as intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that cause distress or anxiety.

Compulsions are the behaviors an individual experiencing OCD feels compelled to perform in order to ease their distress or anxiety or suppress the thoughts.

  • Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also once referred to as manic-depressive disorder, is a condition that causes unusual and often dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and ability to function.

  • Trauma & Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Trauma and PTSD can be intensely debilitating. Many people who experience or witness a war, natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, violent physical or sexual assault, or life-threatening event often suffer from residual, traumatic effects.

  • Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is described as a chronic and severe mental disorder that makes people seem as if they have lost touch with reality. This disorder may not be as common as other mental health disorders, but it can be extremely disabling for those who suffer.

  • Schizoaffective Disorder

This chronic mental health condition is typically characterized primarily by symptoms of schizophrenia, like hallucinations or delusions, combined with symptoms of a mood disorder, such as mania and depression.

  • Co-occurring Disorders

A co-occurring disorder, also referred to as dual diagnosis or dual pathology, is when an individual is suffering from a mental health disorder and another illness, including another mental illness or substance use disorder.

Early Warning Signs of Mental Illness

According to the American Psychiatric Association, major mental illnesses rarely happen without warning. Most often, the individual or someone close to them like family members or friends start to recognize small changes in thinking, feelings or behaviors that could be considered early warning signs of a mental health disorder.

Learning about early warning signs and taking action can actually help. Early intervention can actually assist in reducing the severity of an illness. In fact, it may be possible to prevent or delay a major mental illness altogether. Experts indicate that if several of the following are occurring, it may be important to follow up with a mental health professional to get a full understanding of your situation:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Appetite changes
  • Mood shifts
  • Having low or no energy
  • Withdrawal from activities and interests
  • Unusual drop in functioning
  • Problems concentrating
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Apathy
  • Nervousness
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Helplessness
  • Illogical thinking
  • Increase in risk behaviors; substance use
  • Aggression
  • Uncharacteristic and unusual behaviors
  • Self-harm
  • Thoughts of or attempted suicide

These are all just a few examples. Of course, these warning signs will vary depending on the specific mental illness, but these are general indicators of an issue related to mental health. You can learn about more detailed symptoms by researching specific mental health disorders.

Why Mental Health Matters

There are more than enough reasons to promote well-being and mental health awareness. Mental health and wellness are critical components of overall health. Mental illness is not only an isolating and intimate struggle, it is also a public health issue that deserves attention and support.

A mental disorder can plant itself in the center of an individual’s life, and root itself into every aspect of their life: physical health, work, childbearing, caregiving and parenting, finances and other day-to-day activities. Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in every five American adults experiences mental illness in a given year. That means each year, 43.8 million people experience some kind of mental illness.

Studies indicate that these disorders cost the United States billions of dollars each year in direct and indirect health costs. This includes:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Lost jobs and wages
  • Immeasurable pain and suffering

Even with decades of research, there is no way of measuring the full impact of untreated mental illness. Still, we know enough to know that mental health matters.

Thankfully, mental disorders are highly treatable, like many other medical conditions. Recovery is possible, and for many, that begins with effective and comprehensive treatment opportunities.

Getting Mental Health Treatment

Providing mental health treatment to those who need it is a crucial part of healthcare. In fact, the federal government even created specific laws to ensure people who needed the help could receive proper coverage by insurance companies.

First, the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 (MHPA) provided that large group health plans cannot impose annual or lifetime dollar limits on mental health benefits that are less favorable than any such limits imposed on medical/surgical benefits. Then in 2008, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) established guidelines requiring health insurers to treat mental health and addiction coverage exactly the same as they would with medical and surgical care options.

When seeking mental health treatment, it is important to look for qualified and professional staff that specializes in recognizing and treating mental health disorders. Treatment helps in a number of ways, including:

  • Coping with experiences or memories
  • Learning life skills for daily growth and development
  • Improving on personal relationships
  • Having a consistent support system

Some programs will offer complementary and alternative therapies that many people find helpful in managing their symptoms.

It is important that those who need help have options for quality care. Conducting research, developing innovative treatment methods, and applying those findings to best practices can not only help us detect mental health concerns but also prevent mental illness and manage symptoms. For some individuals, a correct diagnosis and an effective treatment strategy can be the difference between life and death.




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