What do you think of when you hear the words “mental health”?
For some, it may call to mind archaic images of inhumane “asylums.” Others may have more positive images; perhaps you think of a kindly school counselor.
Some people may draw a complete blank at the thought of mental health.
Let’s talk about mental health: what mental health is, some common terms associated with mental health, and why it’s important to talk about mental health.
What Is Mental Health?
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides us with the following mental health definition:
“Mental health is… a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
To put it simply, “mental health” refers to the well-being of one’s mind.
Just like our physical bodies can be healthy or unhealthy, our minds can also be healthy or not-so-healthy.
However, unlike with our physical health, talking about mental health often comes with unique embarrassment and shame. Although societal stigmas against mental illness are lessening, concerns of being “abnormal” or “crazy” may prevent some people from speaking openly about their mental health.
Far from being abnormal, however, the truth is that 1 in 5 adults in the US experiences mental illness in a given year. That’s more than 46 million people. The number may seem staggering, but there is a certain hope in knowing that if you suffer from some form of mental illness, then you are not alone.
Of course, the discussion on mental health involves so much more than mental illness and disorders. There is no need to wait until you have a mental illness before you can talk about mental health.
Think about how we care for our physical health when we are still well by getting regular checkups, eating healthy food, and going to the gym. Similarly, we can also be proactive in caring for our mental health while we are still well.
The first step in taking care of your mental health is learning how to talk about mental health.
Mental Health Common Terms
It is difficult to talk about any topic unless you have the appropriate language to do so.
Understanding some common terminology can help make it easier to discuss mental health openly.
Mental Illness / Mental Disorder
These two terms can be used interchangeably. According to the Mayo Clinic, a mental illness (or disorder) is a mental health condition that affects a person’s mood, thinking, or behavior. Some examples include depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder.
Everyone experiences “dips” in their mental health from time to time, but a true mental illness is usually sustained over a period of time. One day of feeling “down” or “off” does not necessarily mean that you have a mental disorder, just as one day with a headache does not necessarily mean that you have brain cancer.
In today’s high-pressure, fast-paced society, this is a term that many of us are all-too-familiar with!
“Anxiety” refers to general feelings of worry, nervousness, and tension. We have all felt anxiety from time to time. Many people are able to manage their anxiety through practices like yoga and meditation, or by just taking time to relax and unwind at the end of a long day.
However, for people with an anxiety disorder, their anxiety levels become disproportionately high. This can affect their ability to function and perform daily life activities.
Depression / Major Depressive Disorder
Depression (or major depressive disorder) can cause a person to have feelings of sadness, worthlessness, despair, anxiety, and apathy.
It is important to remember that everyone feels sad from time to time. Sadness is a normal and important human emotion. However, with major depressive disorder, those feelings of sadness and apathy cause a severe impact on the sufferer’s daily life, making it difficult for them to go about their daily activities.
“Psycho” may be one of the most stigmatized terms out there, but in the professional medical field, “psychosis” simply refers to some kind of delusional disconnect from reality. Psychosis may include hallucinations, agitated behavior, and incoherent speech.
Psychosis can appear in medical disorders like schizophrenia and some forms of bipolar disorder. Psychosis can also be induced by drug use.
Mania and Hypomania
Mania and hypomania are terms associated with bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic depression). Mania and hypomania are the “highs” in the manic-depressive cycle.
Mania and hypomania are similar in that they both cause symptoms of increased activity and energy, high talkativeness, less sleep, and racing thoughts.
Both mania and hypomania can result in some kind of elevated mood. These “on top of the world” feelings often cause a sense of invincibility, which can result in reckless actions such as wild shopping sprees or sexually irresponsible acts.
Mania is different from hypomania because it is more severe. The most severe manic episodes often include elements of psychosis, such as hallucinations or delusions.
As PTSD awareness grows, more people are also gaining a deeper understanding of what trauma is and the different forms that it can take.
Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” Though most people think of war veterans when they talk about trauma and PTSD, trauma can also manifest in many other forms.
A car accident or an armed robbery are both examples of distressing experiences that could cause trauma to an individual. Victims of abuse and sexual assault also commonly experience post-traumatic stress disorder after the violence that was inflicted on them.
Many people are able to work through their trauma and find relief through therapy.
Talking About Mental Health
Talking about mental health issues takes a certain amount of vulnerability, which is difficult for most people. However, this openness and vulnerability pays off when you are able to get treatment for the problems that are causing you mental or emotional pain.
Even if you are not suffering from any mental disorders, you can still join in on the conversations surrounding mental health.
Take the time to build friendships and relationships with supportive people, and learn to be open with each other in discussing your daily struggles and triumphs. As you become more comfortable with talking about “smaller” mental health items, you will also find yourself becoming more equipped to deal with bigger issues (both in yourself and in loved ones).
Take Care of Yourself
For too many Americans, a lack of health insurance stops them from getting appropriate medical care, including mental health care.