The Fundamentals of Mental Health

If a loved one is exhibiting signs of mental illness, have an open, honest discussion

By Mary Zagari K. MacLeod, Ph.D.

Mental health includes areas of emotional, psychological and social well-being, often affecting how we think, feel and act. Mental health status determines how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Because it can affect all areas of life, one’s mental health status is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including but not limited to: biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry, life experiences, such as trauma or abuse, and family history of mental health problems.

Individuals who suffer from a mental illness can have considerable difficulty with their thinking, their mood or their behavior. This suffering goes beyond experiencing normal stress and sadness. It may cause such significant distress that it impairs functioning, making it difficult to cope with the demands of everyday life such as work and maintaining relationships. Similar to a physical illness, when a mental illness is not recognized and treated, it can worsen and may last for an unnecessarily long time.

It has been found that most mental illness disorders have their roots in childhood and youth. Mental health issues among young people — including both diagnosable disorders and other problem behaviors, such as early drug or alcohol use, antisocial or aggressive behavior and violence — have enormous personal, family and societal costs. Unfortunately, mental health disorders among young people interfere with their ability to accomplish normal developmental tasks, such as establishing healthy interpersonal relationships, succeeding in school, and transitioning into the workforce.

If a loved one is exhibiting signs of mental illness, have an open, honest discussion. You may not be able to force someone to get professional care, but you can offer support, and assist in finding a qualified mental health provider. You may even be able to go along to the appointment showing your commitment to your loved one’s wellbeing.

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