What is mental health? | SAMHSA


Mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act, and helps determine how we handle stress, interact with others, and make choices.

From childhood and adolescence to adulthood, mental health is important at every stage of life. During your lifetime, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, emotions and behavior can be affected.

Mental health conditions

Mental disorders are mild to severe problems that affect a person’s thinking, feelings, and/or behavior. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about one in five adults live with a mental illness.

Many factors contribute to mental health conditions, including:

  • Biological factors such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences such as injury or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

Some mental health issues include:

Severe mental illness (SMI) is a mental illness that interferes with a person’s life and ability to work. Despite common misconceptions, having SMI is not a choice, a weakness, or a character flaw. It is not something that can be “passed away” or “taken away” by mere will.

See SAMHSA’s Public Message on Serious Mental Illnesses.

Early warning signs and symptoms

Not sure if you or someone you know is living with mental health issues? Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviors can be an early warning sign of a problem.

  • Eating more or less or sleeping
  • Avoiding people and routine activities
  • Having low or low energy
  • No sense of numbness or anything
  • The existence of unknown ailments and diseases
  • Despair
  • Smoking, drinking or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, irritable, anxious, or fearful
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • If you have constant thoughts and memories, you can’t get them out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Intent to harm yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily activities such as taking care of your children or going to work or school

Do you think someone you know has a mental health problem? Talking about mental health can be difficult. Learn about common mental health myths and facts and read on for ways to start the conversation.

Tips for living well with a mental health condition

A mental health problem can make it difficult to work, attend school, follow a regular schedule, form healthy relationships, be intimate, stay clean, and more.

However, with early and ongoing treatment—often a combination of medication and psychotherapy—these conditions can be managed, challenges overcome, and a meaningful, productive life possible.

Today, there are new tools, evidence-based treatments, and social support systems to help people feel better and pursue their goals. Some of these tips, tools and strategies include:

  • Stick to the treatment plan. Even if you feel better, do not go to treatment or stop taking medicine without a doctor’s advice. Work with a doctor to safely adjust the dose or medication if necessary to continue a treatment plan.
  • Keep your primary care physician up to date. Even if you see a psychiatrist, primary care physicians are an important part of long-term management.
  • Find out about the situation. Learning can help you follow your treatment plan. Education can help loved ones become more supportive and compassionate.
  • Practice good self-care. Manage stress through activities such as meditation or tai-chi; Eat healthy and exercise; And get enough sleep.
  • Find family and friends. Maintaining relationships with others is important. In times of crisis or difficult spells, reach out to them for support and help.
  • Develop coping skills. Establishing healthy coping skills can help people cope with stress more easily.
  • Get enough sleep. Good sleep improves your mental performance, mood and overall health. Persistent poor sleep is linked to anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.

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