Every May since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the U.S. The focus is to increase awareness of mental health and wellness in Americans’ lives, to celebrate recovery from mental illness, to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, and to advocate for better mental health care.
Mental health is an incredibly important part of our overall health. It includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health. For example, depression increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like diabetes, heart-disease, and stroke. Similarly, the presence of chronic conditions can increase the risk for mental illness.
Although the terms are often used interchangeable, poor mental health and mental illness are NOT the same. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.
Mental health disorders (or illnesses) can include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, and many more. Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the U.S. While everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health, 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in any given year. At NPI, approximately 55% of those we support have a mental disorder as either a primary or secondary diagnosis.
There is no single cause for mental illness. There are a number of factors that can contribute to it. Some of those include early adverse life experiences (i.e. trauma, abuse), chronic medical conditions, biological factors, chemical imbalances in the brain, use of alcohol or drugs, feeling of loneliness and isolation, and more.
So, when does a mental health concern become an illness? It becomes an illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function. The list of possible symptoms can be quite lengthy, but often includes feeling sad or down, reduced ability to concentrate, extreme mood changes, inability to cope, excessive emotions (fears, guilt, anger, etc.), suicidal thinking, and more. Addressing mental health symptoms early is critically important for overall health. Do a quick, anonymous screening and check up on your mental health here.
Life can be challenging, but every day shouldn’t feel hard or out of your control. Use your screening results to start a conversation with your primary care provider, a trusted friend, or a family member. It’s common to feel like no one understands what you’re going through. You aren’t alone – help is available.
Not surprisingly, many of the things we do to maintain our physical health also support our mental health. Make good food choices (especially omega-3 fatty acids, B-group vitamins, and vitamin D), exercise, and get good quality sleep. Additionally, stress management, developing and/or identifying coping skills, and building a solid support system can also aid mental health.
Everyone has mental health, and it deserves our attention just as much as physical health. If you are experiencing mental health issues, please reach out to your primary care provider for help.