What is mental health?
How do you define it?
To put it simply, the term “mental health” refers to “how you are feeling” or the status of your emotional and psychological well-being. Just like we have physical health, you can think about mental health, like taking stock of how mentally healthy you are and how well (or not) you are coping with all of the various things in life that affect your happiness.
“Mental health” is different from mental illness and mental health conditions. Even though we sometimes use the words interchangeably, they are different. A physical illness affects your physical health in a negative way, just as a mental illness or condition can have a negative impact on your mental health. Everyone has mental health regardless of whether they have a mental health condition, and our mental health exists on a spectrum.
How important is it?
Mental health is health. For some time, humans looked at physical health as separate from mental health, but they are both equally integral to our overall functioning and can even affect each other. We know from science and lived experiences (your stories) that your mental health impacts your overall health, your sense of self, your loved ones, and your community.
You may bump up against some beliefs about mental health in your family, friend group or even your culture that can be a barrier to recognizing you need help and asking for help. Because mental health used to be so closely associated with mental illness, and because effective medical and therapeutic treatment didn’t exist until the mid-20th century, stigma around mental health was internalized and passed down from generation to generation.
Stigma can have a ripple effect on tackling mental health challenges–its impact can damage everything from your friendships, relationships, job and overall physical health. What’s important to learn from this is that there’s absolutely no shame in asking for help, and asking for help is not a sign of weakness whatsoever. In fact, valuing your mental health and taking care of it is one of the strongest things you can do for yourself and for your loved ones.
How can I start to prioritize it?
It can sometimes feel like you have no time to prioritize yourself and your mental health because you have so many things you need to do and so many people to support. But, the more you prioritize you, the better you will do as a student, an employee, and even as a friend or family member.
That being said, there are many ways you can start to give mental health a bigger role in your life. Here are a few for starters:
- Check in with yourself often. Ask yourself:
- How am I feeling right now?
- What sensations do I recognize in my body that might indicate how I feel?
- How am I sleeping or eating? Have any of my habits changed? What are the things that are causing me to feel that way?
- How is that different from what I’d like to be feeling?
- What can I do to feel better?
- Have my friends or family pointed out any different behaviors in me?
- Check in with people you love. Ask them how they’re doing—you don’t have to have a reason. Build behaviors of talking and listening with people you love, as support from others is one of the biggest protectors we have from symptoms worsening. We can create a culture of caring.
What can I do if I or a loved one is struggling?
If you feel like your moods, thoughts and stressors are getting the best of you, or if you’ve noticed a change in your loved one, there are various resources and things you can try.
First and foremost, start with understanding the emotions you or a loved one is currently experiencing. It may seem like it’s easy, but we don’t talk about our feelings enough, and noticing and identifying them is a great place to start.
Once those feelings have been identified, observe how long they last and what kind of impact they have on you or your loved one’s daily life. Interference with sleep and/or mood is the biggest tell. If that disruption lasts longer than a few weeks or months, consider talking to a mental health professional about healthy ways to deal.
Related emotions, moods and life challenges
Here are some common emotions that may be worth exploring so you can start identifying what you're feeling, expressing that to others, and understanding potential risks to your mental health if difficult feelings continue.
It’s also worthwhile to consider the potential stressors in your life that may be affecting your emotions. Here are some common challenges people face that can have a big impact.
While not all mental health struggles indicate a mental health condition, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms so you can address them if needed. Even if we don’t talk about it out loud, many people struggle with depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions and get the help they need.
What can I do now?
If you or someone you know needs immediate support, don’t wait—get help now.
Additionally, take some time to learn more about mental health, coping techniques and what resources are available. Developing the ability to notice and better understand your emotions now and in the future will help you take good care of your mindset and overall well-being.
Online interactive tool(s)Take a Mental Health Test | Mental Health AmericaMental Health America provides online screening tools for a variety of mental health conditions. Online screening is one of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition.
WebsiteMan TherapyMan Therapy® was created by a multidisciplinary team of suicidologists, mental health experts, marketing strategists, and creatives to make mental health approachable by using humor to break stigma and help men take action with tools and resources.
WebsiteWondermindWondermind is an inclusive online space where people could come together to explore, discuss, and navigate their feelings. It provides content, tools and resources for mental fitness.