Mental health is the foundation for emotions, thinking, communication, learning, resilience and hope. It is also key to relationships, personal and emotional well-being and contributing to community and family activities. It can be influenced and enhanced by a variety of factors at local, national and global levels including inherited traits, exposure to risk in the environment such as poverty, conflict or disaster, disease outbreaks, humanitarian emergencies, forced displacement and the climate crisis.
Mental illness is a medical condition that causes significant changes in feelings, thoughts and/or behavior (or a combination of these). People with mental illnesses often experience distress or have trouble functioning in their work, school or social lives. They can experience symptoms at any point in their life and at any age.
Serious mental illness is treatable. Most people with mental illness recover fully and live fulfilling lives, just like those with heart disease or diabetes. Despite the common misperceptions, having a mental illness is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It can be caused by a wide range of factors, such as genetics, brain chemistry, stressors and environmental influences in the womb or during early development. It can also be triggered by certain life experiences, such as traumas, loss, abuse, neglect or the death of a loved one.
It is important to know the signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder, so you or your loved ones can get help as soon as possible. These include sudden or dramatic changes in mood, thoughts and/or behaviors. It is not always easy to know if these changes are a sign of a mental illness, especially if they occur in someone who usually copes well with life. It is important to talk with a doctor, therapist or other trusted source for support and care.
Some of the most serious mental health conditions are depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. These can cause extreme mood swings, disrupt sleep and appetite, interfere with work or school performance, and make people feel tired, lonely or worthless. Some of these conditions can even lead to suicide.
Many people do not receive the treatment they need. Among adults who report fair or poor mental health, almost 6 in 10 say they have not received care in the past year. This is particularly true for young people, LGBT individuals and those with low incomes.
A major challenge in the field of mental health is overcoming the stigma and discrimination that can come with having a mental illness. Mental illness is real, and it can impact people from all walks of life, regardless of age, race, religion or economic status. Getting help and treatment is a right for everyone. It is not a sign of weakness or if someone did something wrong. It is not caused by a lack of character or bad upbringing, and it can be overcome with active participation in treatment. Learn more about how mental illness is treated.