Mental health is a person’s ability to think clearly, feel and act positively and productively in their lives. It is the foundation of a person’s overall well-being and enables them to meet life’s challenges and contribute to their communities. Mental illness affects a person’s ability to function in their daily lives, and can lead to serious problems if left untreated. These problems can include decreased work and school performance, difficulty with relationships, substance misuse and even suicide.
Mental illnesses can be very common and can be just as debilitating as many chronic physical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. People who have a mental health condition may face challenges in their everyday lives including stigma and discrimination, difficulties in getting access to care and treatment, high costs and limited insurance coverage. These barriers can lead to higher medical expenses, poorer performance at home and at work and a greater risk of suicide.
The good news is that mental health issues are treatable and most people with a mental illness recover and live fulfilling and productive lives. People can use a variety of treatment options such as therapy (talk), medication and support services like self-help groups to cope with and manage their symptoms.
A variety of factors can increase the risk for mental health problems, including a person’s family history, brain chemistry, and significant life experiences such as trauma, loss, or abuse. These factors can also influence whether a person seeks help for mental health problems or not.
Some symptoms that can be a sign of a mental health problem include low mood, difficulty thinking clearly or feeling sad or anxious. Other signs are changes in behavior, trouble with school or work, impulsive or reckless behaviors and withdrawal from friends and family. It is important to talk with a trusted friend or family member if you are having these symptoms, and to see your primary care provider if needed.
Approximately 19% of adults in the United States experience a mental illness. The majority of these disorders are mild, meaning they do not interfere with a person’s ability to function in day-to-day activities and can be managed through treatment. People with severe and disabling mental disorders are much less likely to get the care they need. Those with lower incomes, those who are Black or Hispanic and those without insurance are at increased risk of not receiving treatment.
Having an adequate and stable source of income, a safe living environment, a supportive network of friends and family, and meaningful paid or volunteer activities are all important factors for healthy functioning and mental illness recovery. Research shows that when these factors are available, more people with a mental health condition will receive the treatment they need. By learning about mental health and reducing the stigma that surrounds it, everyone can take steps to improve their own wellness and support others who have a mental illness. For more information about mental health, visit the SAMHSA website.