Why is Mental Health Important
Mental health—and mental illness—are much talked-about topics, contributing to a growing understanding of the complexities of the human mind. Mental health refers to our emotional, social, and psychological well-being, affecting how we think, behave, and act. Maintaining good mental health is vital at every stage of life, from adolescence through adulthood.
Mental and physical health are equally important elements of our overall health. Mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety disorders, can increase the risk for physical health problems. Not only does taking care of your mental health help you live a more fulfilling life, but it also provides feelings of well-being and happiness.
Defining what good mental health means to you can feel like a daunting task, but it’s an effort that’s well worth making. Here’s why mental health is so important—and how you can start taking small steps to work toward mental wellness in your daily life.
What is mental illness?
Although the concepts might seem synonymous, poor mental health and mental illness are different. Someone can experience poor mental health without having a mental illness. Similarly, an individual diagnosed with a mental health condition can experience good mental health.
According to behavioral health statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one in five adults in the United States experiences mental health problems, translating to more than 40 million adults each year. Mental health conditions can affect everyone, regardless of their background, race, genetics, or environment. In some cases, individuals with mental health issues may require mental health services, such as psychotherapy to sustain their mental health.
Although this is not an exhaustive list, some of the most common mental health conditions include:
- Depression: Individuals with depression may experience a flat mood over several days, or may have feelings of sadness and loneliness that keep returning. Depression can lead to a loss of interest in the things you used to enjoy, withdrawal from friends and family members, and sleeping issues. Depending on the severity, some individuals may engage in self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts.
- Anxiety: Anxiety involves triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response, which prepares us to deal with a perceived threat. Anxiety disorders keep us on permanent high alert, setting off a sense of dread and alarm which can impact an individual’s quality of life.
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Although ADHD is more commonly diagnosed among children and adolescents, it can also affect adults. ADHD may contribute to low self-esteem, difficulty maintaining close relationships, impulsivity, and problems at school or work.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Some people develop PTSD after exposure to a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster or car accident. Individuals with PTSD may experience vivid nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive images.
- Substance use problems: Many individuals experience co-occurring substance use problems and mental disorders. Over time, the short-term high from drug use or alcohol use can lead to long-term problems, such as addiction. Fortunately, substance abuse is highly treatable, according to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
- Eating disorders: Eating disorders are complex mental health disorders that typically require medical and psychological treatment. Eating disorders can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors, including calorie-counting, binge-eating, and purging, which can lead to malnutrition, extreme weight loss, and other physical health issues.
How do we sustain our mental health?
Just like you take care of your body, you can take steps to care for your mental health. Some small steps you can take to maintain a positive mental state include:
- Surround yourself with supportive relationships. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the benefits of having a strong social network are long-lasting and far-reaching, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Surrounding yourself with loving relationships helps reduce stress, improve your outlook, and boost self-esteem.
- Make time for self-care. Sometimes, we get so caught up in our routines that we overlook our own needs, leaving us feeling drained and overwhelmed. Whenever possible, carve time out of your schedule for something you enjoy—whether that’s taking a walk outside or reading a book.
- Exercise regularly. When we exercise regularly, our bodies release endorphins, which trigger positive feelings. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), exercising for as little as 15 minutes each day can leave you feeling more positive.
- Eat a balanced diet. Having a healthy diet helps you feel more energized and think more clearly.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness and meditation provide a wide range of benefits, from keeping your mind sharp and improving your mood to promoting gratitude. Above all else, meditation can help you build resilience and adapt to change in your life.
When should you seek help?
Mental health problems affect everyone differently. If you notice changes in your overall happiness, relationships, or quality of life, it’s important to remember that help is available. Here are some ways you can seek help:
- Reach out to trusted friends and family members. Opening up about your feelings to trusted friends and family members can provide a source of emotional support.
- Join a support group. Especially if you’re living with a mental illness, joining a support group can help you connect with other people in similar situations and overcome mental health stigma. Research has shown that support groups can be particularly helpful for individuals with PTSD and substance use disorders and young adults with mental health disorders. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers various support groups and advocacy resources, including NAMI Basics and NAMI Family.
- Learn more about mental health. There are countless resources available to help you learn more about mental health and different types of mental health disorders, including the National Institute of Mental Health, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Mental Health Association, and WithTherapy.
- Schedule an appointment with a professional. If you start to feel like your mental health affects your daily life, it may be time to reach out for professional talk therapy help. Meeting with a licensed therapist can help you learn different ways to cope with stress and work toward more positive mental health.
If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit your closest emergency room for immediate support.
Finding a Therapist
Mental wellness is integral to our overall health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). If you’re experiencing mental health concerns or finding it difficult to function in everyday life, consider seeking professional help.
To start your search for a therapist, try asking a trusted clinician for a referral. If appropriate, they can refer you to a specialist, such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist, for professional support and guidance.
Additionally, under the Health and Human Services’ relaxed HIPAA regulations, many mental health providers and online therapy platforms are currently offering online therapy services. If you’re living in a rural area or have a chaotic schedule, online therapy can help you eliminate commute times, allowing you to access mental health care from the comfort of your own home.
To start your journey toward positive mental health, reach out to a mental health professional at the Therapy Group of DC.
Whether you’re dealing with occasional anxiety or think you might have a mental health disorder, one of the experienced therapists in our practice will help you explore your treatment options, navigate your mental health problems, and start feeling better.