Understanding Mental Health

Understanding Mental Health Header
Last Updated April 2022

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Caring for your health and well-being involves paying attention to the needs of both your body, and mind – they are connected parts that make up your complete self. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines ‘health’ as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being,” and not merely absence of physical disease. The interaction of both physical and mental health is important to consider, since the comorbidity (or co-occurrence) of both mental disorders and medical conditions is greatly connected. Mental illnesses span a wide range of conditions, each often existing on a spectrum, making it difficult at times to diagnose and treat if not assessed and handled carefully by an experienced mental health care professional. What some may not know is that mental illnesses are actually quite common: the National Institute on Mental Health reports that about one in five adults (about 44.7 million in 2016) will have a mental illness in any given year, beginning at any age, but often presenting itself earlier in life. With mental illnesses impacting so many at any point in one’s life, understanding and evaluating our mental health and its connection to our overall well-being is an essential part of caring for ourselves.

What Does it Mean to Be Mentally Healthy?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines mental health as our “emotional, psychological, and social well-being,” as it impacts our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Research has found that many factors can affect our mental health, including biological predispositions (like genes and brain chemistry), individual life experiences, and a family history of mental illness. The quality of our mental health can also influence how we interact with others, how we make decisions, and how we handle stress, so it is important to care for our mental health at every stage of life.


Caring For Your Mental Health

Paying attention to symptoms and implementing a regular mindset of staying mentally healthy is crucial for caring for your overall health. It is also important to know the elements of being mentally healthy, and know the signs that may indicate the need for assessing your mental health. To be mentally healthy or have positive mental health means functioning in daily activities that result in fulfilling relationships, working productively, coping with the stresses of life, and being able to realize one’s own potential. Other elements of maintaining a healthy mental state include:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Developing effective and healthy coping skills
  • Connecting with and helping others
  • Being physically active and maintaining a balanced diet

Signs and symptoms of mental illnesses will of course vary, but paying regular attention to your mental state and addressing its importance as you would with any health-related concern is part of maintaining your overall health. If you find that some areas of your mental health could need improvement, even if you do not suspect a mental illness, taking a step back to be mindful and addressing your daily needs can make all the difference on your quality of life.

This guide aims to get individuals to consciously evaluate their mental health and give them a starting point to learn how they can best address their mental health care needs.


    Getting Started    

As with any health concerns, doing the adequate research to better understand your needs and treatment options can help you or your loved one make the best decisions for your health care needs.

How to Get Mental Health Help

View a list of types of mental health professions and the types of care they may be able to provide you.

Mental Health and Insurance

Visit this page to better understand how you can best use your health insurance coverage to manage your mental health needs, as well as low-cost and affordable alternatives for those who are uninsured.

Mental Health Parity Law - Know Your Rights

The Mental Health Parity Law aims to de-stigmatize and protect mental health patients. Learn more about how the parity law works in relation to your health insurance.

Immediate Emergency Mental Health Help

In a mental health emergency, immediate help can be an essential, and even life-saving, part of recovery and treatment. If a mental health professional is not immediately available, seeking help through friends, family, and other community members can begin the process of getting the right mental health services you need.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency mental health situation and the situation is potentially life-threatening, you can:
  • Call 911
  • Call the free, confidential National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or Live Chat Online to speak with a national network of people in local crisis centers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Text to 838255
  • If you are a service member or veteran you can contact the confidential counselors through the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or chat confidentially online at the Military Crisis Line Chat
  • Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Referral helpline at 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727) for general mental health services and to find local treatment.
  • Emergency rooms are equipped to handle both physical and mental emergencies. Going into an ER with your mental health emergency can be another option for immediate help if you or someone you know is at risk of life-threatening harm.

If someone reaches out to you in an emergency mental health crisis, there are tips and techniques that can help you provide support to your loved one: