Mental health is an aspect of overall emotional and psychological well-being that influences cognition, perception and behavior. It determines how a person handles stress, relationships and decision-making.
It also determines how resilient, satisfied and capable a person feels in their daily lives. It can be enhanced by many factors, including a sense of purpose and belonging, positive emotions, good quality sleep, effective coping mechanisms, healthy eating habits, adequate exercise, social activities, leisure time and meaningful friendships. These factors are called protective or promotive determinants of mental health. They exist in varying degrees in all individuals. They can be further influenced by risk and protective factors that interact at local, national or global scales, such as economic challenges, violence, disease outbreaks, humanitarian emergencies, forced displacement, and climate change.
Just like other medical conditions, mental illness can be treated with medications, psychotherapy, support groups and lifestyle changes. But the vast care gap – especially in low and middle income countries – means that many people do not get help they need. Some of the reasons include a lack of awareness and discrimination, as well as barriers to accessing services (e.g. cost, stigma, lack of availability). In addition, there are often social and cultural beliefs that contribute to the myths surrounding mental health and mental illness.
A key goal of WHO is to ensure that everyone has access to effective treatment and recovery supports. The organization continues to work on strengthening the whole health system – including primary, secondary and tertiary care – with particular emphasis on community-based interventions, enhancing leadership and governance, integrating promotion and prevention strategies and empowering people with lived experience.
For example, by addressing societal attitudes and biases, WHO seeks to reduce the stigma that often accompanies mental illness and thus encourages people to seek help. It also strives to promote understanding of mental health and mental disorders based on scientific evidence.
Another approach is to view mental health and disorders in the same way that we would describe other physical ailments, such as cancer or heart disease. This helps us to better understand mental illnesses, so that we can talk about them openly and treat them effectively.
Whether it’s through medications, therapy or other self-care, most people with mental health conditions can recover and find meaning in their lives. And the more we know about these disorders, the more we can do to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
If you’re experiencing mental health problems, it’s important to speak to someone about them – a friend, family member, GP or psychologist. You can also call SANE Australia on 1800 18 7263. SANE Australia is a non-profit organisation that provides free, confidential and professional psychological counselling and suicide prevention services across the country. They can help you to find the right person to talk to and offer support, including referrals to specialist psychiatric services. They can help you with general advice and information about depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health issues.