Mental health is a state of emotional, psychological and social well-being that determines how an individual perceives and reacts to stressors and his or her environment. It also affects how an individual interacts with others, making it a major factor in personal and family happiness. People with mental illness often experience challenges, but with appropriate and effective treatment, they can manage their symptoms and find a satisfying measure of independence.
Mental disorders are complex, and scientists are still trying to understand what causes them. Some factors are genetic, while others involve aspects of a person’s upbringing, culture and life experiences. Research shows that certain illnesses, such as depression and anxiety disorders, can be triggered by environmental factors. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental illness as a “serious medical condition that can affect your thoughts, feelings or emotions.” Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses and can cause low moods, fatigue, loss of appetite and difficulty thinking clearly. In severe cases, it can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions. Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, are characterized by excessive worry or fear that interferes with daily functioning. They may cause a physical reaction such as an upset stomach or headaches.
Schizophrenia is a psychotic illness that can cause delusions, thought disorders and hallucinations. It can also cause problems with impulse control and motivation, such as a lack of interest in activities and withdrawal from friends. It usually first appears in people ages 16 to 30 and can cause them to behave oddly or feel out of touch with reality.
Many of these conditions can be managed with psychotherapy, including talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination of treatments. Some patients benefit from medication, which can help balance chemical levels in the brain and reduce symptoms. Some medications boost the body’s absorption of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin, while others block the degradation or destruction of these chemicals.
People can also make lifestyle changes to improve their mental health. They may need to cut back on alcohol, sleep more or address issues that are causing stress. Some may need to change their work or home environments or seek out support from loved ones. Others can use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation or mindfulness to calm the mind and body.
In a recent CNN/KFF survey, nearly 6 out of 10 adults who describe their mental health as only fair or poor say they haven’t received the care they need. This includes a significant share of young people and LGBT adults. In some cases, the reasons for not getting help include being too busy or unable to afford it, and in other cases, a feeling of shame or embarrassment about seeking it. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, reach out to a friend or family member for help, or contact a hotline. You can call or text 988 to access a crisis line in the U.S. or chat online.