Mental Health in the 21st Century

Mental health is a state of emotional well-being and psychological adjustment that includes relative freedom from anxiety or depressive symptoms, the ability to form healthy relationships, and a capacity to deal with the normal stresses and demands of everyday life. In 2019, 970 million people around the world lived with a mental disorder, most commonly anxiety or depression. Despite the fact that effective prevention and treatment options exist, many people do not have access to these services and experience stigma, discrimination and violations of human rights. Psychologists are working to address the gaps in care by educating people about these disorders, improving clinical training and capacity, and reforming policies to support vulnerable populations.

People living with mental illness can experience significant difficulties with daily functioning such as keeping a job, maintaining regular routines, socializing and interacting with others, and maintaining a sense of self-worth. These issues can make it hard to stick with a treatment plan, which may include psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medication. However, with early and consistent treatment that is tailored to individual needs, most people can significantly reduce the impact of their condition on their quality of life and find a satisfying measure of recovery.

A number of factors can protect and undermine mental health, including personal characteristics, environmental conditions, and family and community circumstances. In addition, certain biological mechanisms can contribute to the emergence of mental health problems, and there are a range of medications that can be used to treat them.

Psychiatric disorders are common and affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Some of the more common disorders are anxiety and depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders. Although they occur in all ages and across all economic groups, the rates of disorder are higher among some segments of the population. These include individuals with lower social class, geographical location, particular ethnic minority groups, and older people. Moreover, the majority of people with a mental illness are diagnosed with more than one disorder, and latent class analysis has identified three highly comorbid classes that represent about 7% of the population.

People who live with mental illnesses face a range of barriers to getting help and support, which vary according to location, culture, and social policy. Some of the most serious barriers are social stigma and misinformation about mental illness, which prevent people from seeking help or accepting it when offered. Other barriers include lack of access to care, inadequate financial resources, and a shortage of trained clinicians.

To address these challenges, psychologists are working to raise awareness of mental illness and educate people about these conditions through a variety of outreach programs. For example, in schools they are educating children and teens about mental illness so they can recognize early warning signs and seek help when needed. They are also empowering teachers and school staff to know how to respond when students are having difficulty. In addition, they are developing new approaches to clinical practice and promoting mental health through research and public service initiatives such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s recent recommendation that all youth ages 8 to 18 be provided with regular screenings for both anxiety and depression.