Mental health includes emotional, psychological and social well-being, influencing cognition, perception and behavior. It determines how a person handles stress, relationships and decision-making. People who have good mental health are better able to bounce back from trauma, illness and loss — such as the death of a loved one.
Mental disorders are complex and can affect all aspects of life. The cause can be genetics, brain chemistry or the impact of trauma on the brain. They can also be influenced by other factors, such as poverty, unemployment and substance abuse. Untreated mental illnesses can lead to unnecessary disability, unemployment, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration and poor quality of life.
There are many ways to help treat mental illnesses and most people who get treatment improve. Medications can be used to control symptoms and some are very effective. Some work by boosting the body’s absorption of feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin. Others are mood stabilizers that can ease depression and anxiety. Psychotherapy can help people develop coping skills and learn to manage their emotions. Other treatments include exercise, diet and sleep changes. In addition to pharmacological interventions, psychosocial treatments can reduce the impact of a mental illness on daily functioning and provide support and guidance to family members and caregivers.
Many of the same barriers that prevent access to medical care for some types of physical illness can hinder access to mental health services. Some people avoid seeking care because they don’t think their condition is real, fear stigma or do not know where to go for help. A lack of cultural competence among providers can also make it hard for marginalized groups to get the care they need, such as those with racial or ethnic minority status or LGBT identities.
Despite these challenges, it is possible to live with a mental illness and still have meaningful connections, careers and relationships. The vast majority of people who have a mental illness improve to live full and productive lives with the help of treatment and recovery supports.
It is important to recognize that a diagnosis of mental illness does not mean you or your family did anything wrong. Just like heart disease or cancer, mental illness is not a choice and is not your fault. It can be treated with early intervention and medication, and most people recover to live healthy lives.