What is Mental Health ?

Mental health is a state of emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal life stresses, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make constructive contributions to society.

Mental illness (commonly called mental disorder) refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders – conditions that disrupt the natural functioning of the mind or cause distress. These include schizophrenia, major depression, specific phobia (such as fear of heights), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder etc. Mental illnesses are not just “in your head” but have real effects on how you think and feel about yourself and others around you. The severity ranges from mild such as generalized anxiety disorder up to severe like schizophrenia. The treatment will depend on the condition and the severity, but it typically includes medication, counselling, lifestyle changes etc.

Mental disorders are common in adults and adolescents with 7-20% of any population likely to be affected at some point in their life. While only about 20% of people show symptoms before adolescence both incidence and prevalence rates increase rapidly after puberty, when most psychiatric conditions become evident. The risk factors for developing mental illness include genetics, social stressors (family problems, sexual abuse), psychological trauma etc. These can also make you more or less susceptible depending on your personality (coping strategies) which is why not everyone reacts to stress in the same way.

People who suffer from mental disorders can face isolation, stigma, prejudice, loss of employment and sometimes violence. They are more likely to have medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease etc. People with major mental disorders die on average 10-25 years earlier than the general population .

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The treatment can be expensive but is most effective when the entire family is involved in coping strategies which address problems early before they escalate. There are several support groups available for families too.

Mental health has been discussed by some great minds over hundreds of years. Some people have even created their own techniques for maintaining it or improving it . While some like Freud saw it through a psychiatric lens others like Lao Tzu who wrote Tao Te Ching suggested it had more to do with nature (see below). In the beginning of 21st century with dramatic increase in life expectancy and health care resources countries around the world can no longer afford to lose so many healthy productive years due to mental illness.