Mental Health and Mental Illness

mental health

Mental health is the foundation of emotions, thinking, communication, learning, resilience, hope and self-esteem. It also determines how an individual handles stress, relationships and decision-making.

People of all ages and backgrounds can be affected by mental illness, but those with severe, disabling disorders require specialist care. Treatment includes medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy) and a variety of other supportive treatments.

There are many risk factors that contribute to the development of a mental disorder, such as genetics, traumatic experiences and environmental conditions. However, a person’s vulnerability to develop a mental disorder depends on a combination of risk and protective factors that are not easily influenced by one single factor.

Protective factors can include positive coping skills, family and social support, and the ability to maintain healthy sleep patterns. In addition, physical and emotional habits such as a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress management are important to maintaining good mental health.

Risk factors can also include environmental factors such as poverty, unemployment and isolation. These are often associated with higher rates of mental disorders.

Some of the most common mental illnesses are depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and generalized anxiety disorder, affect about 18% of adults in the U.S.

Most people who are diagnosed with a mental illness can lead fulfilling and productive lives as long as they get the treatment and support they need to manage their symptoms. Having an active participation in the treatment plan is key to success.

The World Health Organization (WHO) supports countries and partners to strengthen the mental health response through a multisectoral and multistakeholder approach. This includes strengthening human rights protection and promoting the empowerment of people with lived experience.

WHO continues to work nationally and internationally – including in humanitarian settings – to provide governments and partners with the strategic leadership, evidence, tools and technical support to strengthen a collective response to better mental health for all.

Identifying the causes of mental illness is crucial for implementing interventions that prevent and treat it. This includes addressing the stigma around mental health issues, and providing support to those who are suffering from a mental health condition.

Stigma prevents people from seeking needed care for mental illness, especially in low-income and middle-income countries where mental health is under-funded and out-of-reach for many. For example, in the United States, about 5.566,000 people are living with a serious mental health condition that is untreated.

These people are putting their lives at risk by harming themselves or others, and are often struggling with addictions, substance use disorders and suicide. Among people with serious mental illnesses, about 60% of those who die from suicide were not receiving adequate mental health services before they died.

Suicide is a major cause of death for adolescents and young adults. More than a third of American teens report attempting suicide in the past year. Those who attempt suicide are more likely to be African-American, Hispanic or Asian-American.