Mental health is a state of emotional well-being and relative freedom from disabling symptoms that affect how you think, feel and react to life’s challenges. It is about being able to work and socialize, to maintain relationships and family functioning, and to cope with daily tasks, pressures and stresses. People who have mental health conditions can live a full, rewarding and meaningful life with proper treatment.
However, most people with a mental illness do not receive the care they need. A combination of factors, including stigma and discrimination, poor health services and lack of adequate resources, can make it hard to find and get treatment for a mental illness. Even those who have received treatment can still face obstacles that can prevent them from living a good quality of life, such as the lack of suitable housing and employment opportunities.
Globally, more than one in three people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives and most will not have access to the care they need. The vast gap between available care and the needs of people living with a mental illness is a key reason why countries must do more to invest in reducing the burden of mental illnesses, which can include anxiety disorders (panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder), depression (major depressive disorder, dysthymia), bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, among others.
The impact of mental illnesses is widespread and can be severe, affecting every aspect of our lives. People who have a mental health condition may struggle to sleep, lose weight, or have difficulty working or caring for children. They can be excluded from jobs and educational opportunities and are more likely to have unhealthy relationships, experience domestic violence or be involved in the justice system. They are also more likely to die young.
A common misperception is that having a mental illness is a choice or character flaw, but research shows that being at risk of a mental illness is not due to personal weakness. In fact, many of the factors that contribute to mental illness are beyond a person’s control, such as genetics and brain chemistry, major life events and stressful situations, and exposure to substances such as alcohol or drugs.
While mental health problems can affect anyone, they are more prevalent in certain groups of people. This includes women, people living in poverty, those with a disability, and refugees and asylum seekers. They can be up to five times more likely to suffer from a mental illness than the general population.
There are a variety of ways to improve mental health and the way we care for ourselves and each other. At the individual level, we can learn to recognise the warning signs of mental health problems and get help early on. It is important to stick with a treatment plan, and always keep in contact with your primary care physician to ensure that your health needs are being met.