We all have mental health, like we all have physical health. Both change throughout our lives. And, like our bodies, our minds can become unwell. Mental health problems might actually be more common than you think. One in four of us will be affected by mental illness in any year. The effects are as real as a broken arm, even though there isn’t a sling or plaster cast to show for it.
Mental health conditions are treatable and improvement is possible. Many people with mental health conditions return to full functioning.
It is not always clear when a problem with mood or thinking has become serious enough to be a mental health concern. Sometimes, for example, a depressed mood is normal, such as when a person experiences the loss of a loved one. But if that depressed mood continues to cause distress or gets in the way of normal functioning, the person may benefit from professional care.
Some mental illnesses can be related to or mimic a medical condition. Therefore a mental health diagnosis typically involves a full evaluation including a physical exam. This may include blood work and/or neurological tests.
People of diverse cultures and backgrounds may express mental health conditions differently. For example, some are more likely to come to a health care professional with complaints of physical symptoms that are caused by a mental health condition
The diagnosis of a mental disorder is not the same as a need for treatment. Need for treatment takes into consideration how severe the symptoms are, how much symptoms cause distress and affect daily living, the risks and benefits of available treatments and other factors (for example, psychiatric symptoms complicating other illness).
Mental health treatment is based upon an individualized plan developed collaboratively with a mental health clinician and an individual (and family members if the individual desires). It may include psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication or other treatments. Often a combination of therapy and medication is most effective. Complementary and alternative therapies are also increasingly being used.
Self-help and support can be very important to an individual’s coping, recovery and wellbeing. A comprehensive treatment plan may also include individual actions (for example, lifestyle changes, support groups or exercise) that enhance recovery and well-being.
Primary care clinicians, psychiatrists and other mental health clinicians help individuals and families understand mental illnesses and what they can do to control or cope with symptoms in order to improve health, wellness and function.