WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH?
Mental health is a combination of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:
- Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
- Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
- Family history of mental health problems
Most people believe that mental illness, sometimes known as mental disorder, is rare and “happens to someone else.“ In fact, mental illness is common and widespread. An estimated 54 million Americans suffer from some form of mental illness in a given year.
Most families are not prepared to cope with learning their loved one has a mental illness. It can be physically and emotionally trying and can make us feel vulnerable to the opinions and judgments of others.
If you think you or someone you know may have a mental or emotional problem, it is important to remember there is hope and help.
WHAT IS MENTAL ILLNESS?
A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines.
There are more than 200 identified forms of mental illness. Some of the more common disorders are depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and PTSD. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits or social withdrawal.
Mental health problems may be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation or series of events. As with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, mental illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological. Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these. With proper care and treatment many individuals learn to cope or recover from a mental illness or emotional disorder.
EARLY WARNING SIGNS
Not sure if you or someone you know is living with mental health problems? Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviors can be an early warning sign of a problem:
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Pulling away from people and usual activities
- Having low or no energy
- Feeling numb or like nothing matters
- Having unexplained aches and pains
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
- Yelling or fighting with family and friends
- Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
- Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
- Thinking of harming yourself or others
- Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school
It is especially important to pay attention to sudden changes in thoughts and behaviors. Also keep in mind that the onset of several of the symptoms above, and not just any one change, indicates a problem that should be assessed. The symptoms above should not be due to another medical condition.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
If the problems in your life are stopping you from functioning well or feeling good, professional help can make a big difference. And if you're having trouble, know that you are not alone: One in four adults in this country have a mental health problem in any given year.
Of course, you don't have to be in crisis to seek help. Why wait until you're really suffering? Even if you're not sure whether you would benefit from help, it can't hurt to explore the possibility.
A mental health professional can help you:
- Come up with plans for solving problems
- Feel stronger in the face of challenges
- Change behaviors that hold you back
- Look at ways of thinking that affect how you feel
- Heal pains from your past
- Figure out your goals
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for a mental health issue can include medication and psychotherapy. In some cases, the two work well together.
What, exactly, is psychotherapy? It's a general term that means talking about your problems with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes. Depending on your situation, treatment can be fairly short or longer-term.
Some people worry that getting help is a sign of weakness. If you do, consider that it can be a sign of great strength to take steps toward getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.