Mental health encompasses many aspects of mental well-being, including psychological, emotional, spiritual, and social factors. It is normal for mental health to fluctuate over a person’s lifetime.
Working on improving mental health has many benefits, including improving physical health, social connections, academic and career success, and overall life satisfaction.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health refers to a person’s mental well-being. Mental well-being includes psychological, emotional, spiritual, and social components. Mental health indicates how a person can cope with life’s stressors and challenges. Mental health is also very much integrated into physical health. Like physical health, it can change throughout a person’s lifetime. Developing mental health strategies can improve one’s overall quality of life, physical health, personal relationships, and coping with life challenges.
Mental Health Conditions
Mental health conditions, also known as mental health disorders, significantly impact one’s thinking, moods, or behaviors, affecting one’s ability to function in everyday activities and handle responsibilities. There are many categories of mental health conditions, including but not limited to anxiety disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and substance use dependency.
Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions characterized by excessive fear or worry. These feelings of fear or concern may be high-intensity or last for long periods. Many conditions fall under anxiety disorders. These include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized anxiety disorder is when a person experiences high levels of worry regarding life events or situations that are not proportionate to the actual situation. This level of worry is often difficult for the person to control and affects everyday functioning.
The panic disorder results in intense anxiety or panic with physical symptoms such as a racing heart, shortness of breath, chest pains, and feelings of doom. These are also called panic attacks.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is when a person experiences recurrent or obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors called compulsions.
Social anxiety/ Social phobia
Social anxiety or phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by avoidance of social interactions or situations due to fear of judgment from others or embarrassment.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder caused by experiencing a traumatic event. People with PTSD can experience severe anxiety, flashbacks to the traumatizing event, and uncontrollable thoughts.
Mood disorders are mental health conditions that directly impact emotions or mood. A person with a mood disorder may experience extreme sadness and helplessness, periods of excessive happiness, or a combination of both. Common mood disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder.
Depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder, is when people experience persistent sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, trouble concentrating and thinking, and sleep disturbances. Although it is normal to have periods where one experiences sadness, a person with major depressive disorder will experience severe symptoms that can affect daily functioning and personal relationships. The symptoms of depression include anhedonia (loss of pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyable), thoughts of worthlessness and guilt, difficulty concentrating and fatigue.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder in which a person will experience extreme shifts in their mood, most often with periods of extreme lows (depression) and periods of extreme highs (mania). These mood changes occur in cycles where people experience a period of depressive mood and then a period of mania. In certain circumstances, depression and mania can occur simultaneously.
Seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder impacted by seasonal changes. Most often associated with low moods that occur simultaneously with colder, darker seasons, particularly in the northern hemisphere.
A disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. A person with schizophrenia may experience visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thoughts. People with schizophrenia may also have disorganized speech and motor behavior. Symptoms of schizophrenia usually begin to present in early adulthood.
Eating disorders are mental health conditions that affect eating behaviors. Anorexia is an eating disorder in which people have an abnormally low body weight due to extreme food restrictions. Anorexia is usually caused by intense anxiety surrounding food, gaining weight, and distorted perceptions of body weight.
Bulimia is an eating disorder in which people experience cycles of binging (eating large quantities of food) and purging (riding themselves off food in an unhealthy way, such as vomiting). People with bulimia may also regularly restrict food intake. Finally, binge eating disorder is when people eat large quantities of food due to feelings of lack of control over food intake.
Causes of Mental Health Problems
There is no proven singular cause of mental health problems. Most research suggests that mental health conditions can be caused by biological, personal, social and environmental factors, traumatic events, and lack of social support.
Biological factors of mental health problems may include genetic factors. Certain mental health conditions can run in families and have genetic links. Research suggests that many mental health conditions can result from genetic abnormalities predisposing someone to mental health problems and other factors, such as stressful life events that trigger the onset of these mental health conditions.
Other biological factors linked to mental health conditions include age and gender. For example, there are higher rates of depression among women than men, but men show higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicide. Lastly, mental health problems can indicate physical brain structure abnormalities. Changes in brain structure or functioning can cause significant changes to mood, behavior, and thinking patterns related to many mental health conditions.
Mental health can also be related to personal factors such as psychological resilience, which dictates how a person can cope with life challenges and stressors. Personal lifestyle factors can also help to prevent mental health problems, such as having positive coping mechanisms for stress or having healthy lifestyle habits, including physical activity and a healthy diet. Physical health can also be a factor that affects mental health. For example, having chronic physical health conditions may negatively affect a person’s mental health.
Social and Environmental Factors
The environment can significantly affect mental health. Poverty and economic stressors can contribute to some mental health problems. Lack of access to nutritious food can also be a contributing factor. Work demands and work conditions may also affect a person’s mental health. Lastly, weather and environment can trigger mental health conditions such as seasonal affective disorder.
Life experiences are significant factors that affect a person’s mental health. Past traumatic events and adverse childhood experiences, such as child abuse, can contribute to many mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety.
Social support and social well-being are also related to a person’s mental health. A sudden loss of social support, such as a death of a parent or partner, can trigger mental health conditions. In addition, being in a toxic or unhealthy relationship can significantly influence a person’s mental health. Lastly, social isolation can contribute to poor mental health.
Mental Health Stigma
The mental health stigma includes discrimination, stereotypes, or prejudice about people with mental health conditions. Discrimination occurs when people are treated differently due to their mental health conditions. Stereotypes and prejudices are pre-conceived biases against people with mental health conditions.
Mental health stigma has many adverse effects as it can prevent people from seeking help and treatment for their mental health. Public mental health stigma is negative views of mental health imposed on a person by others. Self-stigma of mental illness includes internalized shame that a person has about their mental health.
Strategies for Improving Mental Health
Seeking help from a Mental Health Professional
Many people seek help from a mental health professional when their mental health negatively affects their wellbeing over time. Mental health professionals can help people find strategies, and coping mechanisms, provide support and be objective person in discussing one’s feelings with.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness have many proven positive effects on mental health. Meditation and mindfulness are practices that reduce stress and anxiety. Meditation, such as gratitude meditation, helps to promote an optimistic view of life. In addition, meditation and mindfulness are ways to self-reflect and improve self-awareness. This can help improve mental health because increased self-awareness allows one to identify needs, goals, and boundaries. Self-awareness can also improve personal relationships and connections.
Maintaining Physical Health
Physical health is very connected to mental health; therefore, working on physical health will often result in improvements in mental health. This can include increasing physical activity levels, having proper nutrition, and prioritizing self-care.
Changes to Lifestyle
Lifestyle changes can also have positive effects on mental health. This includes improving one’s sleep schedule and sleep hygiene. Another lifestyle change that positively improves is prioritizing a healthy work-life balance. Engaging in leisure activities also has a significant positive impact on mental health.
Stress Management Strategies
Stress management strategies help manage life stressors and challenges and foster positive mental health. Common stress management strategies include breathing techniques (box, deep, and pursed lip breathing), progressive relaxation, and aromatherapy. Practicing yoga and meditation is also proven to reduce stress and be a positive coping mechanism.
Gratitude journaling helps mental health by enabling people to see the good and positive in their lives. Research shows that gratitude journaling positively affects mental, physical, and social health. Practicing gratitude journaling is as simple as writing down three people, experiences, or things one is grateful for daily.
Connecting with Social Supports
Having good social support is helpful for mental and physical health. Leaning on trusted social supports helps a person cope with stress and has been shown to reduce blood pressure and even boost the body's immune system. Close relationships allow one to discuss emotions and receive guidance from trustworthy people. Joining local clubs or activities can be a great way to expand one's social network. It is essential to reflect on one's social relationships.
Benefits of Improving Mental Health and Mental Wellness
There are many benefits to improving mental health. Working on mental health helps one to enhance their ability to cope with life challenges and be more resilient. Having positive mental health also enhances personal relationships. Improving one’s mental health may also help one to be comfortable taking more significant risks in life and achieving their goals.
Mental health impacts physical health; therefore, improving mental health can also improve physical health. Research shows that those with positive mental health have a decreased chance of having a chronic condition such as high blood pressure.
Research also shows that people who work on improving their mental health can see life more positively. They are also more creative and have better career and academic success. Lastly, those who work on improving their mental health have higher overall reported life satisfaction and overall health.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the signs of having serious mental disorders?
Signs and symptoms of mental illnesses can vary from person to person and depends on the mental health condition a person has. Some common signs and symptoms include extreme changes in mood, withdrawal from personal relationships, decreased interest in activities, decreased ability to focus and concentrate, and problems with sleep.
What are the best ways to handle stress and improve mental health?
For many people having positive coping strategies integrated into daily life can help manage life stressors. These include participating in regular physical activity, practicing yoga for anxiety and stress, practicing mindfulness and meditation, connecting with loved ones, setting boundaries, practicing deep breathing and relaxation techniques, and finding meaningful activities that bring joy.
Is it possible to recover from a mental illness?
Yes, it is entirely possible to recover from a mental health problem. Once people find effective treatments and techniques for reducing their symptoms and bettering their mental health, they can lead happy and fulfilling lives. Symptoms of mental health conditions may return from time to time for some people, but having effective mental health techniques can help people to cope and improve their mental health throughout their life.