What is mental health
We can think of mental health as personal well-being on an emotional, social and psychological level. It is equally important as physical health and the two complement and influence each other. Happiness, social life, and personal interactions all depend on our mental health. A healthy mind helps us deal with stress, make rational choices and successfully overcome challenges. There are many factors that negatively affect mental health. Among them are traumatic experiences, abuse, genetic predisposition, and stress. It is important to bear in mind that mental health issues are common and there are many ways we can deal with them.
Mental health statistics
Diagnosable mental health disorders are common and affect one in every four adults in the US a year. Around 10% of Americans (age 18 or older) experience a depressive disorder, usually showing first symptoms in their mid-twenties. Anxiety disorder affects over 17% of adults but its onset is typically associated with teenage years. In teenagers, the situation is similar to one-fifth of teens suffering from mental health problems. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is estimated to affect over 9% of children in the US.
What is mental illness
We cannot really talk about mental health if we do not discuss mental illness. Mental illnesses would impede our day-to-day activities and prevent us from carrying out normal tasks we are otherwise used to. Nevertheless, if you are a victim of abuse, you should also seek help right now. Moreover, if you feel your mental health is declining because of unbearable professional or domestic workload, you need to undertake practical steps to change your routine and alleviate your situation.
If you have suicidal thoughts or you are thinking about harming yourself in any way, please seek help right away.
Mental illness symptoms
Some of the signs that there might be a problem include:
- Sleep trouble: insomnia or sleeping too much
- Lacking energy and motivation to engage in daily activities
- Feeling worried or threatened for no apparent reason
- Rapid or ungrounded mood swings
- Eating too much or not eating enough
- Being unusually forgetful or lacking concentration
- Inexplicable physical pain
- Experiencing delusions or hallucinations
- Feeling hopeless, desperate or unreasonably pessimistic
In some cases, people manifest only one or two of these symptoms. Other times, there is a combination of many. A stressful lifestyle and high emotional sensitivity can also cause us to experience some of the symptoms. If you feel your condition is getting out of hand and you fail to perform routine activities because of mental health symptoms, you should seek help.
Bipolar disorder is a condition that causes extreme changes in one’s mood and energy levels. Its other name is manic-depressive disorder. People who suffer from it alternate between states of elevated moods and depressive spirits. A period of extreme mood is called an episode. People who are having a manic episode are extremely agitated and the rush of energy might make them try to do many things at one or talk very fast. During a depressive episode, one feels sad, worried or hopeless. They lack the energy and focus to undertake daily activities and they might even have suicidal thoughts.
Persistent depressive disorder
This is chronic depression and it is also known as dysthymia. This condition renders people unable to carry out their daily activities because of a lack of productivity. This is due to persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. It can also affect one’s self-esteem and cause heavy self-criticism. This disorder can also make one feel inadequate or insignificant, causing them to avoid social interactions. It is important to keep in mind that this is a long-term illness. Downbeat moods are not as extreme as in major depressive disorder, which we will be discussing shortly, but the duration of the disorder is likely to affect one’s personal life or hamper academic or professional results.
Major depressive disorder
Major depressive disorder is what we usually mean when we talk about depression. This condition impacts a person’s emotional and physical well-being. We might experience depression only once in our entire life but it is also not unusual for episodes to recur. A person that suffers from depression is visibly tired, too tired to deal with everyday tasks. They might find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning or fail to summon the strength to take care of themselves. The person might be unable to concentrate and feel reluctant to make decisions. They could also often feel like crying or obsessing over unsuccessful endeavors in the past.
Generalized anxiety disorder
This illness includes excessive or inexplicable feelings of worry or fear, especially ones concerning the future. People who suffer from it often anticipate failure or feel in immediate danger although there are no reasonable grounds for it. Their unwarranted concern might cause them to lose control over their actions. People with GAD might realize there is nothing worrisome about a situation and yet remain unable to take their mind off disastrous scenarios. Even if they imagine no particular trouble, they are overwhelmed by a sense of menace. This is why they do not tend to take uncertainty well and try to exert control over others or over the developments of certain events that are out of their jurisdiction
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It is characterized by recurring obsessive ideas that a person cannot reject. These ideas force the person to perform particular actions, which are called compulsions. The person feels that if they fail to perform the action, some terrible event would follow. So the compulsions become a kind of ritual that a person with OCD would stick to in order to avoid disaster. These actions would often seem irrational, such as seemingly uncoordinated movements or iterations. Alternatively, the person might feel compelled to check over and over again if they have locked the door or unplugged the iron. They are aware of the irrationality of their behavior but cannot help themselves. The reason is that they see the rituals as a lesser effort compared to running the risk of being exposed to danger.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
This condition is rooted in a traumatic experience one has undergone in the past. This is also a type of anxiety disorder. PTSD involves obsessive terrifying memories or nightmares, related to the event. It is also likely for the person to develop persistent pessimistic thinking, feel desperate or emotionally numb. People with PTSD are also jumpy and easily startled, always anticipating danger. They are prone to substance abuse and risk-taking. Children can also suffer from PTSD. If so, they might constantly reenact elements of the traumatic experience. Thus, parents should pay special attention to the child while playing to look for signs.
Schizophrenia is a serious disorder, which causes trouble perceiving or interpreting reality and acting accordingly. A person who suffers from schizophrenia cannot organize their thoughts, which makes their behavior or speech seem erratic. Symptoms include cognitive, emotional and behavioral issues. In most cases, there are also delusions or hallucinations. Delusions are false beliefs about reality, such as wrong interpretations of comments or situations. Hallucinations are perceptual experiences of stimuli that are not there, such as hearing voices or seeing people or objects which are not currently present.
Social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder is sometimes mistaken for shyness or indecisiveness but often it is also the other way around. We need to understand that being nervous or concerned about the outcome of events that are important to us is absolutely normal. Social anxiety disorder, however, affects a person’s behavior and reactions in everyday situations. A person with SAD would be extremely self-conscious about everything that says or do. This often prevents them from taking action, participating in discussions or even carrying out day-to-day tasks. It can significantly disrupt one’s professional routine and impact their social interactions. This is a chronic condition that makes people highly susceptible to fear of scrutiny. Such feelings are exacerbated by concern that others can tell that one is anxious, which would be even more embarrassing.
Mental health diagnosis
Diagnosing a mental health illness is a complex process. It involves a combination of physical and psychological tests. The former aims to establish whether there are any strictly physical issues that might be causing the symptoms. The latter usually requires you to complete a questionnaire. In some cases, it might also include a psychological evaluation. Additionally, your doctor may administer lab tests. These would establish any thyroid problems but could also be used to check for substance abuse. Making a diagnosis can be a lengthy process. Symptoms can be overlapping and it might be difficult to recognize a pattern of episodes. However, a diagnosis is crucial to efficient treatment. Once you have been diagnosed, your doctor will decide on the best approach to your condition.
Mental health treatment
As we said, the treatment is entirely dependent on the diagnosis. Moreover, attempts should be made to establish the cause of the illness. In mild cases, changes in lifestyle might suffice. Depending on the individual symptoms and issues, a doctor might prescribe medication. Psychotherapy also allows the patient to talk to a specialist in a comfortable environment. Finally, a person can be hospitalized or admitted into a mental health facility. There they would receive comprehensive care and treatment. Let us now briefly discuss medication and psychotherapy, which are the two most widely used approaches to mental health disorders.
When we talk about medication with respect to mental health disorders, we need to specify that medications generally target symptoms. Apart from relief, their role can also be to facilitate other types of treatment. Prescription medications include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, stimulants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics. Make sure that you provide your doctor with a complete list of all other medications you are currently taking or have taken recently. These might include not only mental health-related ones but also vitamins and supplements. If drug use is involved, you need to list that too. You should always take your mental health medications specifically as prescribed.
Psychotherapy gives a person a safe space to talk about their mental health problems and anything that might affect their mental well-being. Therapy will give you the chance to talk about these issues and discuss your concerns, feelings, and behavior. Some people go to psychotherapy for a few months, while others go for years. It all depends on the individual case. Choosing a therapist is extremely important. They generally remain neutral and function as prompts to help you establish certain mechanisms to cope with the disorder. If you do not feel comfortable with your therapist, you should look for a new one. Psychotherapy is meant to facilitate your recovery and not add to the stressful factors.
Introducing changes to your lifestyle and routine can also be helpful. If you are aware of the triggers of episodes or you feel a particular element in your environment impacts your mental health negatively, you can start by trying to avoid them. It is important to understand that medications, therapy or time spent in a facility do not work on their own. You need to be aware of your own situation and actively participate in the treatment. One should both observe their doctor’s recommendations and make healthy choices about themselves. Exercise and a healthy diet are highly beneficial. But in the middle of an episode, you should accept help from your loved ones and try to stay on top of the illness by keeping you thoughts ordered and your recovery a priority.
How to support someone with a mental health issue?
If you have a loved one who suffers from a mental health disorder, there are certain steps you can take to support them and make it easier for them. First, you should never question how they feel or what they are going through. Do not try to make sense of their situation by rationalizing it through your own perceptions. Furthermore, do not try to force them to share. Indeed, sometimes talking to a friend or a family member can help. However, since you are not a professional, you should not really expect your conversations to be enough for recovery or to be beneficial at all. Listen to what they tell you but try to keep a neutral or positive attitude. Do not urge them to share thoughts and experiences which are too painful because that might exacerbate their condition. And finally, be prepared to support them through their medical treatment. Sometimes you have to accept that your loved one needs expert advice and encourage them to seek some.
Mental health awareness
Mental health awareness is vital for helping people who suffer from mental disorders. The more we know about the problem, the more efficient our actions will be. Recognizing key symptoms in oneself and in close ones allows us to take measures as early as possible. If we understand these conditions, it will be easier to make sense of what someone else is going through or what we actually experience and why. Ignorance only aggravates the situation because it can lead to tension, prejudice, and victim-blaming. Thus, reading up on specific topics, symptoms or disorders means we will be able to act adequately and contribute to other people’s mental well-being.
Final thoughts on mental health and disorders
Mental health disorders are common and have many different forms. The symptoms vary according to the condition and the person, and so do treatment approaches. Anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are all types of mental health issues but their symptoms and manifestations differ significantly. Separate problems and their severity call for individual practices to cope with the illness. Doctors will choose among medication, psychotherapy, mental health facilities and changes in lifestyle or will suggest the most suitable combination. You should seek help if you feel you cannot deal with the issue on your own. Expert will make sense of your symptoms and guide you through a healthy process towards mental well-being.