What Is Mental Health? Signs and Treatment Options

Do you want a better understanding of mental health? Discover top signs of mental illnesses and treatment options.

There are a lot of reasons you may be concerned about your own mental health or the mental health of a loved one. However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell an actual mental illness from  a temporary bad or down mood. You may also have trouble deciding if a loved one is behaving unusually for a good reason or if there is an underlying condition to blame.

Mental health is influenced by many factors. Sometimes, it is influenced in a temporary and easily correctable way, such as when there is an unforeseen reaction to a new medication. Other times, the road to regaining mental wellness can be a long one with many twists and turns along the way. If you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from a mental illness, it is important to have a clear understanding of what mental health is and how to recognize the onset of such an illness. You must also learn the types of treatment options that are available when a mental illness is present. That information is provided below.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is simply a state of being mentally and emotionally fit. Much like physical health measures how well the body is doing, mental health measures how well the mind is doing. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental health issues are quite common, though they do vary widely in intensity, as well as duration. For example, many patients go through temporary periods of depression. However, many other patients have more prolonged, and in some cases permanent mental health conditions.

According to the institute's 2019 data, approximately 20 percent of U.S. adults had some type of mental illness. However, only approximately five percent of U.S. adults were suffering from serious mental illness (SMI) at the time. Statistics also tend to vary by demographic, for example in 2019:

  • SMI was more prevalent in females than males.
  • Younger adults were more prone to SMI than older adults.
  • Adults of mixed ethnic backgrounds were more prone to SMI then single-race adults.

Early Warning Signs of Mental Illness

One of the things that sometimes makes mental illness difficult to recognize quickly is that it can have many early warning signs. Some of those signs could also be signs of other things. For example, poor school performance is a possible sign of mental illness in a child. However, the child could simply have trouble concentrating at school for any number of other reason. For example, he or she may have a learning disability, be the victim of bullying, or simply not like a certain class. The best way to recognize a mental illness early in a child or adult is to take notice if more than one warning sign is present. According to the American Psychiatric Association, possible signs to watch for include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Social Withdrawal
  • Mood Swings
  • Decreased Work or School Performance
  • Changes in Sleep Patterns
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Sudden Sensitivity to Noises, Lights, Tastes, or Smells
  • Nervousness
  • Illogical Thinking or Hallucinations
  • Apathy
  • Any Sudden Behavior Changes

Many of the above symptoms have multiple possible causes besides mental illness. However, if they are present in combination, it is a good idea for you or your loved one to undergo a mental health assessment. In particular, any changes in thought processes or major behavioral changes are often signs of an underlying mental health condition.

Types of Mental Disorders

There are numerous types of mental disorders. The The U.S. National Library of Medicine, lists six of the most common categories. Those categories are:

  • Eating Disorders
  • Depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Psychotic Disorders
  • Personality Disorders

Many of those categories are umbrella terms used to encompass various conditions. For example, schizophrenia is one of many disorders that falls in the “psychotic disorders” category. Similarly, there are multiple types of anxiety disorders. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of them.

Mental Health and Wellness

There are many aspects of mental health, including social, cognitive, and emotional health. If you are suffering from a form of mental illness, the effects are often far-reaching. Mental illness can prevent you from attending social events, cause you workplace stress or job loss, and change your behavior in ways that can make you isolate yourself from your loved ones. That is why maintaining mental health and wellness is vital.

There are many simple ways to improve your mental wellness. One of the best options is to increase your physical activity level. Exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel happy. Surrounding yourself with loving family members and friends can also boost your mood. Additionally, you may benefit from activities like doing charity work, adopting a pet, or taking up a new hobby. However, some mental health issues require specific types of treatment.

How Mental Health Counselors Can Help

One form of mental health treatment is counseling. A properly licensed mental health counselor has specialized training that can assist you in many ways. Talking to a trained counselor allows you to emotionally vent. You can also receive feedback and advice on particular situations that are causing you stress. The counselor can help you figure out and cope with a wide variety of feelings. He or she may also suggest specific plans to help you get back on track after a stressful event, such as the dissolution of a long-term relationship or loss of a job. In addition, a mental health counselor can help you create a recovery plan if you have certain specific mental issues, such as:

  • An Addiction
  • An Eating Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • A Phobia
  • Anger Control Issues

The Best Treatment Options for Mental Health Conditions

Mental health counseling may only be a single step in your multi-step recovery process. There are many other mental health treatment options you may also need to consider as part of your recovery plan. You may benefit from joining a support group, especially if your mental health condition was triggered by something like a substance addiction. Medication is also often useful for controlling many types of mental health conditions. Inpatient or outpatient treatment in a mental health clinic is another option. Discuss your concerns with your mental health counselor to decide what treatment or combination of treatments is right for you.