Mental Health Basics

Mental health includes our psychological, emotional and social well-being.

Mental illness compromises those normal states of well-being and can affect how we handle stress, the decisions that we, make how we feel and how we relate to others. While there are a number of reasons that a person may become mentally ill — genetics, family history and life experiences — mental health maintenance is crucial part of taking care of yourself and can lead to awareness, prevention and treatment. It is important to understand the common misconceptions about mental health as many of these myths can have dangerous repercussions for individuals who are mentally ill. It is also important to be aware of the common signs and symptoms of mental health illness and to know about the types of mental health professionals that can provide you with a treatment plan. To learn more about mental health and illness, including warning signs, misconceptions and when to get help, review the sections below.

Why Mental Health Maintenance Is Important

Maintaining your mental health can improve your overall quality of life, support healthy relationships, ensure that you make better choices and help you maintain your overall physical health and general well-being. Failing to maintain your mental health can be associated with detrimental effects as the symptoms of a mental illness worsens. Studies show that 80 percent of individuals who are afflicted by a mental illness have some form of damaging effect on their families. This could be, in part, due to the fact that there are many forms of mental health that contain symptoms such as social isolation.

By maintaining your mental health, your medical costs will likely be reduced. Untreated mental health patients are likely to visit their primary care physician twice as much as other individuals. This is due to the fact that mental health issues can manifest into physical health problems such as heart disease, ulcers, a weakened immune system and malnutrition. Furthermore, untreated sufferers are more likely to fail to care for themselves, including eat properly and engaging in routine exercise. Mental health disorders can also impair sleep, which can cause even more problems.

When you take care of your mental health, you will find that you are able to have better work performance, consistent work attendance and higher productivity. In fact, many businesses will often select employee health plans that include strong mental health benefits.

Common Misconceptions About Mental Health & Mental Illness

There are a number of misconceptions regarding mental health and mental illness that you should familiarize yourself with in order to educate yourself and avoid these common, and sometimes dangerous pitfalls. One common belief is that mental health illnesses are rare, which is not the case. In fact, it is estimated that one in five people will experience a mental illnesses within their lifetime. That number also includes children, as one in 10 children will experience a period of major depression.

While these numbers may seem startling, it is important to understand that mental health sufferers are not generally violent or dangerous. Statistics show that only three to five percent of violent acts that are committed are done by an individual who suffers from a mental health illness. Instead, individuals who live with mental illnesses are 10 times more likely to be victim of violent crimes.

Another common belief is that mental illness is caused by a flaw in character or is a form of weakness. This theory continues that a mentally ill individual can recover if they want to. This is simply not the case, and this common misconception can be further damaging to mentally ill individuals who may already have become socially withdrawn or who are experiencing difficulty seeking help or talking to their loved ones. Mental health problems are not connected to character flaws. In fact, it is theorized that mental health illness stems from a combination of genetics, life experiences and environmental factors.

Perhaps one of the most dangerous misconceptions regarding mental health is that if you feel better, you must be cured. If you are receiving treatment for a mental illness and you begin to feel better that relief is a sign that your treatment is working. It does not necessarily mean that you are cured. Your mental care provider will be able to determine how long you should continue a treatment. If you are taking medication and you stop taking them suddenly, you may experience symptoms of withdrawal and there is a good chance that you could regain your mental illness symptoms.

Common Signs & Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

Research shows that three quarters of cases involving mental health illnesses will first show before the age of 24 and that 54 million Americans currently suffer from a mental illness each year. Of those numbers, it is estimated that half of all mental illnesses will exhibit symptoms prior to an individual’s 14th birthday. There are a number of risk factors for mental illness, including:

  • Brain chemistry.
  • Environmental factors
  • Medical conditions.
  • Brain damage.
  • Traumatic experiences, including abuse and neglect.

When left untreated, mental illness can worsen, causing behavioral, physical and emotional problems to arise. Fortunately, most mental illnesses are treatable. While symptoms can vary by age group, common symptoms of mental health issues include:

  • Prolonged depression, including displays of sadness or irritability over a long period of time.
  • Excessive doubts, worries, stress, fear or anxiety.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Delusions.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Social isolation.
  • Substance use.
  • Dramatic changes in sleeping and/or eating habits.

In children and adolescents, telltale signs of mental health many also include the refusal to go to school, substantial changes in school performance, persistent nightmares and frequent outbursts.

The Types of Mental Health Professionals

Once you have decided to seek treatment, it is important to be aware of the different types of mental health professionals and what treatments they can provide. Contrary to belief, not all mental health professionals are the same. Counselors, therapists and clinicians can all provide treatment that is often recommended in combination with medication, but they cannot prescribe medications themselves. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, often prescribe medication and can diagnose disorders, but they do not always provide the therapy sessions that you may have heard of in the past.

Once you have narrowed down on the type of mental health professional(s) that you would like to create a treatment plan with, it is important to consider additional aspects of the professionals within your area, such as:

  • Their treatment methods.
  • Their specialty.
  • Any additional training they may have.
  • Their availability and scheduling.

If you ever experience suicidal thoughts, it is important to seek help immediately. Contact your local emergency hotline, the national suicide hotline or dial 911.

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