Vermont Care Partners: What is mental health?
This commentary is the first in a series on mental health as part of Mental Health Awareness Month in May. It is a collaboration of the Vermont Care Partners’ statewide network of 16 nonprofit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and support.
What is mental health? Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. According to MentalHealth.gov, “Our mental health affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.” When talking about mental health it’s important to know everyone has mental health.
There has been some confusion that mental health and mental illness mean the same thing when they do not. A mental illness is an illness and it affects the way people think, feel, behave or interact with others. There are many different mental illnesses, they have different symptoms, and they impact people differently. Not everyone will experience a mental illness but in the course of a lifetime but “everyone will struggle or have a challenge with their mental well-being (i.e., their mental health) just like we all have challenges with our physical well-being from time to time,” as indicated by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
When there are pressures in our lives it is normal for people to sometimes feel worried, anxious or upset. However, if your mood, thinking, or behavior has changed to the extent they are seriously interfering with your everyday life and lasting for a few weeks or more then you may be experiencing a mental health problem. Mental health problems can be treated and getting help early can prevent difficulties from getting more serious. According to Rethink Mental Illness, “being mentally healthy is about having the strength to overcome the difficulties and challenges we can all face in our lives and to have confidence and self-esteem to be able to make decisions and to believe in ourselves.”
Mental health facts (according to National Alliance on Mental Illness):
• 1 in 5 adults in the United States lives with a mental health condition.
• 1 in 25 (10 million) adults in the United States lives with a serious mental illness.
• 60 million people in the United States face the day-to-day reality of living with a mental illness.
• Half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24, but early intervention programs can help.
• African Americans and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about half the rate of whites in the past year, and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.
• 90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, but suicide is preventable.
• The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90% of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with the right treatments and supports.