When you think of mental health, what comes to mind? A number of things probably. Depression, anxiety and eating disorders have certainly been in the news a lot lately. But mental health is important for everyone — not just those with a diagnosable mental illness. Mental health affects each and every one of us, as we all have our own ups and downs.
So what exactly is Mental Health? Mental Health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel and act and can help determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make health choices.
Mental illnesses are very common with more than 1 in 5 adults in the US living with a mental illness. But mental health doesn’t only affect adults, over 1 in 5 youth ages 13-18 either currently or at some point during their life have had a seriously debilitating mental illness.
What causes mental illness?
Adverse childhood experiences such as trauma or a history of abuse
Experiences related to other ongoing (chronic) medical conditions such as cancer or diabetes
Biological factors or chemical imbalances in the brain
Use of alcohol or drugs
Having feelings of loneliness or isolation
What about children’s mental health? The statistics are staggering.
In adolescents aged 12 – 17 years:
15.1% had a major depressive episode
36.7% had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
4.1% had a substance use disorder
1.6% had an alcohol use disorder
3.2% had an illicit drug use disorder
18.8% seriously considered attempting suicide
15.7% made a suicide plan
8.9% attempted suicide
2.5% made a suicide attempt that required medical attention
The data shows us just how severe mental health is in our nation
– but what do we do about it?
End the Stigma
Whether intended or unintended, the stigmas that surround mental health are extremely harmful to those who suffer from mental illnesses and their loved ones. Over 50% of individuals will mental illness don’t receive help for their disorder. This delay or avoidance of seeking treatment is often due to concerns of being treated differently or fears of losing their jobs and livelihood. Putting an end to the stigmas and having open, honest conversations about mental health is something we can all do to help reduce the negative health outcomes of those who suffer from mental illness.
Improve Access to Quality Health Care
Access to quality health care is a major cause for continued mental health decline, which in turn can cause physical health decline. Lack of access to health care stems from multiple social issues such as:
This is why increasing funding for transportation programs, public health, Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement, resource centers, specialized services, and staffing is crucial to improving access to health care services that everyone deserves.
Talk About It
When we have real and open conversations about mental health – with our family, children, spouse, friends, co-workers - we begin to tear down stereotypes and encourage those who are suffering that it is okay to talk about what they are going through and to seek treatment. That there is no need to fear judgement or to feel ashamed. But perhaps most importantly, it shows them that they are not alone and that there is hope for a better tomorrow.