What is Mental Health

Mental health encompasses our psychological, social, and emotional well-being. Mental health affects our feelings, thoughts, and actions and influences how we cope with stress, form relationships, and make important decisions. Taking care of your mental health is essential at every stage of lifeā€”from childhood through adolescence to adulthood.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, mental illness and poor mental health are not the same. An individual can experience poor mental health without the presence of a mental health disorder. Similarly, an individual diagnosed with a mental disorder can experience periods of good mental health.

Mental illnesses are common in the United States, and more than 50% of adults in the United States will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. According to behavioral health statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental health condition, while one in 25 adults lives with a severe mental disorder. Fortunately, most mental health disorders are highly treatable with a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

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Why is mental health important?

Mental and physical health are equally important components of our overall health. Mental illnesses, such as major depression and anxiety disorders, increase the risk for many types of physical health problems, including stroke and heart disease. Similarly, chronic health conditions can increase the risk for mental illness, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Early Warning Signs of Mental Health Problems

Although mental health symptoms vary depending on the specific mental illness and its severity, watching out for common mental health symptoms can indicate whether you or someone you know is living with a mental health problem. Risk factors for mental health problems include trauma, chronic physical health conditions, biological factors, substance use, and feelings of loneliness, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

According to the Mental Health Association, experiencing one or more of the following symptoms may be an early warning sign of a mental health problem:

  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits, which may result in malnutrition or insomnia
  • Avoiding people and daily activities
  • Experiencing unexplained aches and pains
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or loneliness
  • Feeling like nothing matters
  • Having little or no energy
  • Engaging in substance abuse
  • Feeling angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family members and friends
  • Experiencing extreme mood swings
  • Having persistent, intrusive thoughts
  • Believing things that are not true or hearing voices that are not there
  • Thinking of harming yourself or other people
  • Having difficulty performing daily tasks, such as going to school

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Types of Mental Health Conditions

People can experience different types of mental health disorders, and different mental disorders can occur simultaneously. Mental illnesses can occur over a brief period or can be episodic. In other words, mental illnesses can come and go and can be ongoing or long-lasting.

There are over 200 types of mental health disorders, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (commonly referred to as the DSM). Some of the main types of mental health disorders are listed below. That being said, this is not an exhaustive list.

  • Anxiety disorders involve excessive fear that is out of proportion with the actual situation. Anxiety disorders include social anxiety, phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Mood disorders involve intense feelings of sadness or happiness or fluctuating between extreme sadness and joy. Mood disorders include major depression and bipolar disorder.
  • Behavioral disorders involve patterns of disruptive behaviors, such as impulsivity, that last for at least six months and cause problems at home, in social situations, and at work or school. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common behavioral disorders.
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are characterized by obsessive and distressing thoughts and behaviors, leading to malnutrition, overeating, calorie restriction, and concerns about body image.
  • Substance use disorders and other mental health conditions are often co-occurring. Types of substance use may include alcohol use, drug use, and various illegal substances.
  • Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia involve a wide range of symptoms, including delusions and hallucinations.
  • Personality disorders are characterized by personality traits that are distressing and may lead to problems at work, school, or in interpersonal relationships. Personality disorders include borderline personality disorder (BPD) and antisocial personality disorder.
  • Trauma and stress-related disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can occur after experiencing a traumatic event such as a war, car accident, or natural disaster.

Treatment Options for Mental Health Conditions

Although living with a mental health disorder can feel debilitating, many types of mental illnesses are highly treatable with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. If you believe that you or a loved one may have a mental illness, early intervention and treatment are key to successful outcomes. Some components of an effective treatment plan include:

  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” involves speaking with a licensed therapist in a safe, confidential environment. Therapy can help you work toward positive mental health by learning different ways to cope with stress, exploring your feelings, and identifying problematic thoughts and behaviors.
  • Medication: Alongside therapy, medications such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and beta-blockers can help improve the symptoms of some mental illnesses. Working with a psychiatrist can help you determine the most appropriate treatment for your condition.
  • Regular check-ups: Because the symptoms of many mental health disorders can resemble those of physical health conditions, it’s important to schedule regular check-ups with your clinician to rule out any underlying conditions. Additionally, your healthcare provider may be able to provide you a referral to a qualified therapist or psychiatrist.
  • Social support: Opening up to a trusted friend or family member about your mental health allows them to support you and learn more about your condition. Additionally, support groups offer a valuable opportunity to connect with others facing similar challenges and combat stigma. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers a wide range of support group resources, including NAMI Basics and NAMI Family.
  • Lifestyle changes: Taking steps to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and limit substance use can help improve your overall mental health and well-being, according to the World Health Organization. Especially for young adults, maintaining a routine can help provide a sense of stability.
  • Hotlines: If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit your closest emergency room for immediate support.

How to Find the Right Therapist

Above all else, it’s essential to find a therapist you feel comfortable with. According to the American Psychological Association, maintaining an open, honest line of communication with your therapist can help you form a deeper therapeutic relationship, which can improve your long-term psychological health. In other words, the more comfortable you feel talking to your therapist, the more successful your treatment will be.

Because it’s so important to find the right therapist, it’s not uncommon for individuals to switch between mental health services a few times before finding the perfect fit. In the beginning, give your mental health provider a chance. While you might have a gut feeling during your first appointment, you’ll typically know within two to three appointments whether the therapist is right for you.

To start your search, reach out to a therapist through the Therapy Group of NYC. Whether you’re experiencing mental health symptoms for the first time or living with a mental health disorder, our experienced therapists can help you on the path to mental wellness. One of our licensed therapists will help you navigate your mental health problems, discuss your treatment options, and live a happier, healthier life.

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