Mental Health

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health disorders, also called mental illness, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions – disorders that affect your thinking, behavior and mood. These disorders include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive disorders.

Recognizing There’s a Problem

Clearly, we all have health concerns from time to time – such as forgetting where we put our personal belongings in our home or feeling sad or discouraged, even getting anxious about a situation for no apparent reason. For some, these feelings of depression, unhappiness and nervousness occur more frequently during the holidays especially for those who are alone or without family close by. So, when does mental health concern become a mental illness? When ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and distinctly affect your ability to function. It can cause problems in your daily life, within relationships or at work, and can make you miserable.


Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the disorder and other factors such as inherited traits (certain genes may increase the risk of developing a mental illness), environmental exposures before birth (inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs while in the womb), brain chemistry (impaired neurotransmitters – brain chemicals that carry signals to other parts of your brain and body) and other underlying conditions (brain damage as a result of a serious injury – traumatic brain injury).

These signs and symptoms include:

  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Feeling sad or down
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Problems with alcohol or drug use
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Sex drive changes
  • Suicidal thinking

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as headaches, back pain, stomach pain, or other unexplained aches and pains.

When Should You Talk with Your Provider?

Do not attempt to treat your condition alone. If you have any signs or symptoms of a mental illness, see your primary care provider or a mental health professional. Be sure that you are completely open and honest about your symptoms with your provider. In most cases, mental illness will not improve untreated and may get worse over time, often causing serious problems. Sometimes symptoms can be managed with a combination of medicines and psychotherapy (talk therapy). Your provider will determine the best treatment for your symptoms.

Helping a Loved One

If your loved one shows signs of mental illness, have an open and honest discussion with him or her about your concerns. Do not only force him or her to get professional care, instead, offer encouragement and support. By being supportive, you can help to find him or her a qualified provider or mental health professional and assist in making an appointment. You may even be able to accompany him or her to the appointment. If your loved one has done self-harm or is considering doing so, take him or her to the hospital or call for emergency help.

Can Mental Health Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no definite way to prevent mental illness, however if you have a mental illness, taking preventative steps to control stress and boost low self-esteem are great ways to help keep your symptoms under control. Be sure to pay attention to the signs and symptoms, get routine medical care, and practice good self-care by eating healthy, attaining regular physical activity and getting enough sleep.

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